I often marvel at how particularly suited poetry is for memoir. Something of the intensity of feeling, sparseness of narrative and intricacy of images in poetry feels like memory itself to me. The multiplicity that can be found in poetry hits on the bigger truth that our own histories have so many meanings resting on top of and running parallel to each other in the beautiful chaotic free fall that is our lives.
This is a list of books similar to my debut collection Run Riot: Ninety Poems in Ninety Days in which poetry is the medium through which the past is explored, and what raucous, solace-full explorations they are. I hope you get the chance to read at least a few of these great books.
The Pit, by Tara Borin
Take a trip up north to Dawson City and pull up a barstool at the local watering hole with this little gem of a collection. When I finished reading The Pit I felt as though I could walk into Dawson City’s local bar and feel right at home. Borin’s poetic storytelling brings the ghosts of that old hotel in the north to life. When you finish The Pit you might be a little bit haunted but it’s well worth it to get to know this small corner of the north. This collection really takes you there with the love, compassion, and creativity that could only come from a resident of the Yukon telling the stories of their home. I highly recommend taking this trip.
My Art is Killing Me, by Amber Dawn
This book is essential reading for anyone hoping to understand the cost of making art out of one’s own life story. In this collection Amber Dawn takes you from the memory of the moment she received her acceptance into the creative writing program at UBC, through the innumerable hurdles and challenges brought by her career as a writer who tells her own story. Through the hate and the sorrow that inevitably come, Amber Dawn remains courageously committed to telling her truth. She keeps raising her voice to call out how readily our culture would have those on its “periphery” silenced or their messages distorted.
Grey All Over, by Andrea Actis
This poetry collection is at the top of my to-read list. After discovering her father’s dead body in an East Vancouver apartment Andrea Actis is left with a mountain of grief to sift through. In Grey All Over, Andrea offers insight into grieving and loss, a state of being that is forever familiar and alien to us all. I cannot wait to read what this emerging poet has to share about her experience.
NDN Coping Mechanisms, Billy-Ray Belcourt
One of my favourite collections of poetry NDN Coping Mechanisms is a follow up to This Wound is a World and continues Belcourt’s work of dismantling the western gaze on Indigenous culture. Digging into queer identity and rhetoric to pose a challenge—and, dare I say, a threat—to what we think it means to be Canadian, Belcourt’s journey in this collection is a must read.
Not One of These Poems are About You, by Teva Harrison
In Teva Harrison’s final days living with cancer she took the time to write some poems about her experience with illness. They are beautiful, solace filled, and oftentimes a mix of angry and defeated. In a world where it would be very unusual to not know someone who has battled with cancer this is a book that gives a first-hand account of what it is like to lose that fight. For me this text is at the forefront of sharing what it means to be human. Sitting with your sadness is well worth the wisdom that this book so freely offers.
Render, by Sachiko Murakami
This is Murakami’s forth poetry collection and it takes the form of a personal account of sorting through the aftermath of addiction. Similar in theme to my collection Run Riot: Ninety Poems in Ninety Days, Render differs in voice and structure in ways that illuminate whole other aspects of addiction and trauma and how one can live with them and sometimes through them. This is a poetic account worth checking out.
Body Count, by Kyla Jamieson
With a sharp sense of humour and wit, Jamieson through this collection of poems explores her life in the wake of a concussion. Asking questions about how we inhabit our bodies, what invisible pain is worth to those we love and to ourselves this collection of poetry slowly unravels to reveal who Kyla Jamieson really is and perhaps a bit about who culturally we all really are.
Then Now, by Daphne Marlatt
This forthcoming collection cannot get on my bookshelf soon enough. Inspired by letters written by Marlatt’s father, these letters harbour the tension of a man who is living in a world, 1930-1940, that feels like it is on the brink. Marlatt’s poems in this collection are written in response to these letters, and she writes from the very different world of today while finding herself surrounded by much the same feeling of impending doom. I simply cannot wait to dig into this one.
"This is a weird place to wake up / For someone who has woken up in some pretty strange places before."
Run Riot is a collection of ninety poems, one written each day during Ash Winters' 90 day stay at a Vancouver rehab centre. A fiercely personal account of what it feels like to stop drinking after a decade of excess, Run Riot takes the reader through moments of determination, anger, hilarity, and heartbreak. Winter's frank account of early sobriety offers companionship to those who know it well and insight for those that want to know it better. Weaving the past and the present together with ruthless vulnerability, Run Riot is a powerful portrait of one person's struggle against addiction, laying bare an honest search to heal and better understand one's self.
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