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Book Beyond the Poem—Poem Beyond the Book

A recommended reading list by Klara du Plessis, whose Hell Light Flesh is a finalist for the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry at the QWF Literary Awards. 

Book Cover Hell Light Flesh

The QWF Literary Awards celebrate the best books and plays by English-language writers, playwrights, and translators in Quebec, as well as those translating English works from Quebec into French. Each award comes with a purse of $3,000.

For more information about the Awards and to see Giller Prize-winning author Sean Michaels announce all the finalists, check out the Gala page on our website.

Hell Light Flesh, by Klara du Plessis, is a finalist for the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry.


This list foregrounds the unravelling of the poem as a discreet entity and models expansion. Through modes of formal lengthening, seriality, interdisciplinarity or disciplinary coexistence, these poets exceed the tradition of book as self-contained object, and break print materiality to cross over into other genres and practices. While the work of these authors feels central to my personal reading practice, I am keenly aware of the limitations of inclusion—the other ones, the unread ones, the ones from across borders.


Book Cover An Autobiography of the Autobiography of Reading

An Autobiography of the Autobiography of Reading, by Dionne Brand,

This title demands to be first in a list of recommended reading. It’s not poetry—like most of the other books here—but a published lecture, a lecture (like many of Brand’s other lectures) that, in its sustained literary impetus, overlaps with poetry. Brand theorizes the difference between leading a life of choice and agency versus the life delimited and predetermined according to discriminatory narratives of systemic racial marginalization. This is filtered through the vehicle of literature, reading, with some particular focus on Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Maybe I should include Jane Eyre on this list, but as reread with the contextual leap of decolonizing Canadian literature.


Book Cover Nishga

Nishga, by Jordan Abel

Whether poetry or not is a debate worth pursuing as Abel’s most recent book channels research creation, doctoral dissertation, and memoir, while also developing modes of erasure, citation, and visual poetics hinging on Indigenous art as initiated in previous poetry collections. A sustained, book-length exploration, Abel traces implications of intergenerational trauma and the legacy of the residential school system in Canada, deferring with each page the unreachable definition of a personal relationship to Nisga’a language, culture, and community. This is a difficult book to read, one filled with consequence equally as it exposes intimacy—art generated from the interstice between individual and larger cultural experience.


Book Cover The Dyzgraphxst

The Dyzgraphxst, by Canisia Lubrin,

The idea of understanding The Dyzgraphxst is beyond the point—mastery goes against poetry generally speaking, but there is an additional generosity, universality, historical and political largesse to Lubrin’s collection that exceed summation or readerly enfolding. This seven act long poem portrays selfhood chorally, playing with a refraction of the first person speaker into you and they: “i: First person singular. / I: Second person singular. / I: Third person plural ... I choreographs.” If I is also you, then the reader enters the dazzling, disorienting world of the poem to be plunged into the poetics of ocean tides that roil as representative of the transatlantic slave trade and victim of ecological disaster.


Book Cover Magnetic Equator

Magnetic Equator, by Kaie Kellough

“The poem is the inflection, it’s the torsion in the delivery, it’s the attitude,” writes Kellough, implying a robust, kinetic understanding of language. At once liquidly visual and percussively notated, this collection traces a history of the transatlantic slave trade, and simultaneously grounds itself in the present of migration, asylum seekers, and the very contemporary politics of borders. A long poem from the collection has been translated into a mind-blowing video collaboration with bass saxophonist Jason Sharp and typographic designer Kevin Yuen Kit Lo. Commissioned by SpokenWeb, this work can be viewed as Small Stones.


Book Cover the Elements

The Elements, by Erín Moure

Kellough’s Small Stones leads me to Sophie Seita’s video essay, Cloudiness, a brilliant reflection on tactility and experimental translation. In it, Seita muses, “A translation after all exists always in relation to another text. A non-translation is also always in relation to another text, but it can more easily be in denial.” Moure’s translation practice is central to her poetics (just recently, she released The Face of Quartzes by Chus Pato and The Uplands by Uxío Novoneyra). In The Elements—an active poetry collection that thinksshe writes, “If multilingual is to speak +one languages serially, polylingual is to speak +one languages concomitantly.” Even though I wouldn’t necessarily tag this book as “long poems,” relationality of languages, texts, and authors—as well as a sustained mode of thought—expand the book beyond its own pages.


Book Cover Eight Track

Eight Track, by Oana Avasilichioaei

Many of the works in Eight Track also reside as intermedial artworks of sound, performance, and/or image.“Tracking Animal,” for example—a work which continues Limbinal’s preoccupations with slippages between languages—is transformed into a site specific video that transgresses marginal urban spaces. The work on the page changes shape in movement, on the screen. Or, the video morphs as a sequence of words in a book. As a whole, each section of Eight Track is framed by a definition of the word “track,” ranging from a musical track to surveillance tracking to a beaten track across a landscape, and more. It fuses together as a formal and thematic unity, while also retaining independent poetic strategies in the eight main sections of the book (and a hidden bonus track!).


Book Cover Zom Fam

Zom-Fam, by Kama La Mackerel

I read La Mackerel’s work in an archive—considering their performance and multidisciplinary work, this seems misleadingly static—but the critical creative space of Artexte amplified my reading. These poems enunciate themselves and seem to hold vocalization in their writing process. They roll and undulate. The language itself seems to grow into bodies. The book’s queer, trans subject is imbued with tenderness in a way that gently politicizes actions like love and healing. Looking through some documentary images of the 90-minute performance version of Zom-Fam, I recognize the archival gesture, the tension between print, mobility, reading, performance, and record.


Book Cover A Number of Stunning Attacks

A Number of Stunning Attacks, by Jessi MacEachern

There is an unstable, fragmentary eroticism to MacEachern’s debut collection of long poems. Reading, I am often stunned by images that glimmer with innuendo, but can’t be tracked down. While I can’t remember whether I saw this on social media, read this in an interview, or recall it from a personal conversation, I know that MacEachern has a practice of writing in notebooks which then become primary material for mass excision and rearrangement—leading to the sense of reading a whole assembled with shivers of words. MacEachern has done robust scholarly research on, what she calls, Lisa Robertson’s palinodic poetics, simultaneously asserting and retracting, existing in the present and in archival space.


Book Cover 3 Summers

3 Summers, by Lisa Robertson

At this point, I’ll acknowledge that I’ve been writing this list from Cape Town, far from my book case and it’s been a strange activity writing about books without their physical presence—this does seem to make sense, though, considering this list’s apparent expansion of the book beyond its form. It also feels right to conclude with 3 Summers—a collection of lyrical essays that I’ve returned to many timeswhile writing from summer in the southern hemisphere. In these long poems, feminist bodies are posited as both hormonal and cognitive practice. There is a section of a longer poem about grief, a green coat, and a tree which is humbling, astounding, and ecstatic. Pair with my essay on this collection in Unfurl and Robertson’s handsome voice, exploring the life and work of Djuna Barnes on the Influence podcast series (produced by Sophie Collins and Colin Herd).


Book Cover Hell Light Flesh

Learn more about Hell Light Flesh:

In her second collection of poetry, Hell Light Flesh, Klara du Plessis returns with a Dantesque trilogy on family, punishment, and the ferocity and brilliance of creation. Hell Light Flesh drops the reader into a narrative claustrophobically entwined in unquestioned systemic violence where art and art criticism act as a consistent glimmer of hope. Over and over, the poem lends itself to allegory, and yields to layers of interpretation. Hell Light Flesh is mandatory reading for devotees of the long poem and fans of du Plessis’ thrilling brand of essayistic poetry alike.


Klara du Plessis is the author of Ekke and Hell Light Flesh (Palimpsest Press)both works of long-form poetry, which have won or been shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, the Raymond Souster Award, and the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry. Klara is a PhD candidate at Concordia University researching the curation of recent and contemporary poetry readings. Part of her research creation expands her curatorial practice into experimental Deep Curation poetry reading events, an approach which places poets’ work in deliberate dialogue with each other and heightens the curator’s agency toward the poetic event.

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