I’ve been working on an epic multi-part fantasy novel in verse for over ten years. The themes include climate change and global inequality and feature a time-travelling demi-goddess, Bramah the Locksmith. Her first adventures appeared in Bramah and The Beggar Boy, and Bramah’s Quest, released in August, continues the series. In doing the work of world-building, character development, and poem creation, I’ve come to value a wide range of books by Canadian authors whose work helps sustain me with their focus on superb writing, historical research, personal memoir, editing tips, and profound stories. Over the years, I’ve accumulated many lists! For Bramah’s Quest, here’s a list of a few of these “sustainers” with a few words about what each book has brought to my writing practice and why, this year, during the writing and editing of my current book, I’ve been returning to, or, discovering the new, through the works of these Canadian authors.
Injun, by Jordan Abel
Jordan and I first met in an innovative poetry/musical composition programme, Art Song Lab, and his attention to the way language breaks as a material formed a foundational guide to and for my own poetics: the way history, race, linguistics, culture, texts, fragments, maps, interact on the page are beautifully rendered in a series of language poems in this book.
- The Cyborg Anthology, by Lindsay B-E
I knew Lindsay when they were at SFU’s The Writer’s Studio, and we both shared, I think, an understanding of what it means to be othered and to create, to write. This fascinating and innovative poetry collection is both a science fiction memoir and a futuristic action thriller! I love how the book bends and shifts our expectations of genre and voice.
A History of the Theories of Rain, by Stephen Collis
This beautiful set of four long poems, published during the pandemic, helps bring me back to the possibilities of form and language when writing about our climate emergency. There’s a haunting wave and lilt to these poems, embodying science, logic, and mythic images, by a writer I deeply admire.
A Day Does Not Go By, by Sean Johnston
Sean helped me early in my writing career by publishing a creative nonfiction piece, extracts from the canada project, in a gloriously produced and edited journal, Ryga, that sadly is no more. This novel is one of my favourites: rich, dense, clever, funny, and heartbreaking. This is realism with its absurdist intellect worn loose and unassuming. I’ve seldom read a novel that so resonates with such subtle emotion.
Serena Singh Flips the Script, by Sonya Lalli
I’ve just started this novel as a respite from book launch planning and course preparation for the fall teaching term. The narrative is fresh and crisp, the characters appealing, and it’s great to see smart, savvy women of colour portrayed in funny and three-dimensional ways. I love the way the book is divided into “Seasons.” As a literary poet, weather and the seasons are a continued preoccupation. Reading broadly outside my field brings energy! Lalli is a novelist with a sure sense of plot and pacing: lots to reflect on and learn when writing. Lots to enjoy.
The Sun and Her Flowers, by Rupi Kaur
I don’t think this book's creative, cultural, and market impact can be overstated! As a South Asian Canadian, deeply interested in the way race, culture, and language interact and cognizant of how I, as a “settler-immigrant-citizen,” experience this country, the poems and meditations, the structure and diagrams in Kaur’s work, have me returning and reflecting…. Growing up in a primarily homogenous Canada and coming of age in a very white “CanLit” environment, I still get a thrill when I open this book to see “women who like me” on its pages.
I Will Be More Myself in The Next World, by Masutani Matsuki
This book of poetry seared and sustained me during the final writing and editing of Bramah’s Quest: many of the beautiful Zen-like poems here speak to aging and illness. I read the stanzas about Parkinson’s Disease as I witnessed its devastating effect on my family. Shanti. Much is left unsaid. This is such a profound and beautifully crafted book. Another Mother Tongue Press book that I keep close is Little Red, by Kerry Gilbert, with its deft and unsettling poetic examination of gender and myth.
Coronation Year, by Jennifer Robson
Oh, how I love this “royal-adjacent historical novel”! I had the great pleasure of hearing the author read from it at a tea hosted by the publisher at the Hotel Vancouver late this spring and dove into it as a break from the close reading work of editing my epic poem. Robson expertly weaves gentle romance with historical fact and evokes both a year (1953) and a place (London, of course), with well-developed characters and a sensitive feel for diversity. I loved the mixed-race character, James Geddes, and it is always restorative to read popular history where I can see my background reflected on the page.
Porcelain Moon, by Janie Chang
I’ve just started what I consider a “companion novel”: Porcelain Moon. Again, this is a thoughtful approach to historical research about a little-known connection of Paris-France-Canadian history, told through the perspective of two Chinese lovers. Janie and I were students of SFU’s The Writers Studio, and how thrilling to see her books on best-seller lists!
Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing By and About Indigenous Peoples, by Gregory Younging
As a creative writing instructor and editor, I’ve learned so much from this book with its compassionately rigorous design and content. The editorial advice is seminal and compelling. It is an indispensable resource for all writers and editors. I keep it close by me on my desk. It is the first published guide to common questions and issues of style and process for everyone creating works about Indigenous Peoples. What a loss to our public discourse and culture to lose Mr. Younging, but his work will live on.
Of Sunken Island and Pestilence: Restoring the Voice of Edward Taylor Fletcher to Nineteenth-Century Canadian Literature, Edward Taylor Fletcher. Edited by James Gifford
In this academic text, my colleague, Dr. James Gifford, has thoughtfully curated and annotated the essays, poems, and writings of a forgotten English Canadian literary figure related to James via his grandmother. I swoon for such connections! The preface is worth much reflection as it discerns history and place and contextualizes settler literature. I’m slowly reading and absorbing as I reimagine and repurpose this place called home.
So, there you have it: a diverse range of genres, perspectives, and authors, all Canadian. Truly, in these uncertain and troubled times, it’s a gift to have books and readers to read them. Shanti. XRSS
The ambitious second instalment of Renée Sarojini Saklikar’s epic fantasy saga in verse, The Heart of This Journey Bears All Patterns (THOT J BAP).
This book-length poem features the time-travelling demigoddess Bramah, a locksmith and the saga’s hero. In Bramah’s Quest, the year is 2087 and Bramah is back on a planet Earth ravaged by climate change and global inequality. Bramah is on a quest to find her people, including the little boy Raphael, last seen at the end of Bramah and the Beggar Boy (2021). Hailed as “brilliant and masterful, timely” (Kerry Gilbert), this long poem reclaims poetry forms such as blank verse, the sonnet, the ballad and the madrigal. Each page is a portal, connecting readers to the resistance of seed savers, craftspeople, scientists and orphans, all banded together to help save their world from eco-catastrophe and injustice.
Ten years in the making, Bramah’s Quest weaves poetry with politics to create an epic family saga that is also a meditation on good and evil and a “real page turner” (Meredith Quartermain). Bramah, “brown, brave and beautiful,” is determined to conquer the odds and deal with what fate and chance throw in her path. Each twist and turn tests her ability to live up to the motto “Let all evil die and the good endure.”
Comments herecomments powered by Disqus