Billeh Nickerson is a Vancouver-based poet well-known across Canada for his playful, witty observations on sex and culture. In Impact, his third poetry collection from Arsenal, Billeh turns his attention to a more serious subject that has fascinated him ever since he was a child: the sinking of the Titanic.
Published on the 100th anniversary of the disaster (which occurred on the night of April 15, 1912), Impact is an intimate and evocative poetry collection that depicts the tragedy in a series of poetic snapshots. Based on historical research the author conducted in Belfast and his birthplace of Halifax, the poems document not only the history behind the ship's construction, but what life must have been like for those aboard her maiden voyage and in the years following her sinking. While many readers are familiar with the various myths surrounding the ship and its sinking, this book offers a new, startlingly sensitive perspective with poems that take readers inside the hearts and minds of its passengers.
About the author
Billeh Nickerson is the author of two poetry collections, both published by Arsenal: McPoems and The Asthmatic Glassblower, nominated for the Publishing Triangle Poetry Prize. He is also the author of the humorous essay collection Let Me Kiss It Better: Elixirs for the Not So Straight and Narrow, and co-editor of Seminal: The Anthology of Canada's Gay Male Poets with John Barton. A founding member of the performance troupe "Haiku Night in Canada," he is the past editor of the literary journals Event and Prism international. He lives in Vancouver, where he teaches at Kwantlen University.
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[Nickerson] proves skilled at evoking powerful images of the mythic vessel, taking the reader on a journey from the ship's construction right through the death of the last survivor ... This book is full of simple grace, and honours those affected by the wreck of the great ship.
-Quill and Quire (STARRED REVIEW)
Quill and Quire
The poems themselves are poignant and evocative, and better researched than most theses.
Herein lies poetry as storytelling, embedded with numerous socio-historical nuances.
Nickerson's poetry is soulful, drawn to alienation, love/lust/heartache, cultural politics, and the infernal contradictions of daily life ... For Impact, Nickerson maintains a characteristic focus on fleeting poignant moments and instances of individual perspective.
The beauty of Impact: The Titanic Poems is in both its narration and its accessibility of language. Nickerson packs a lot of story into these spare poems.
-Vancouver is Awesome
Vancouver is Awesome
Released in time for the one-hundredth anniversary of the disaster that inspired it, this compact little collection, Impact: The Titanic Poems, is enough to restore one's faith in poetry.
As though by its gigantic cinematic rendering, the tragedy of the Titanic had ceased to be real or have meaning, but it turns out that one hundred years later, poetry was what was required-the opposite of gigantic-to re-instill the story with solidity.
-Pickle Me This
Pickle Me This
Impact is the most perfect title for a series of poems that explore the many unseen facets of the disaster and I can't recommend it highly enough ... This gathering of poems creates a form of lamentation both heart-breaking and immediate, working as they do to reduce the tragedy down from flabby myth and sensation to its very essence, the lives of the people and their escape, or their sad and harrowing demise, and Billeh Nickerson doesn't flinch from the detail.
Impact—The Titanic PoemsI was going to pick this book up anyway, and then Geist Magazine made me an offer I couldn't refuse (a copy of Impact included with a year's subscription).
The poems with which Nickerson tells the story unfold chronologically. In "Construction" we meet the great ship as it's being built in Belfast (my grandmother remembered seeing it there, a story she would tell with wonder in her voice as a few years later she came to Canada by ship herself ). We tag along as fly-on-the-wall passengers when the ship begins its "Maiden Voyage". There are two sections of "Impact" poems, separated by four strong found poems in "Voices", the lines taken from reports of the accident by four of the survivors. The book ends with "Discovery", where we're taken to the Halifax cemetery where many of the unidentified or unclaimed bodies ended up and we're shown the ocean floor on which Titanic rests (if you can call the past few decade's constant probing a rest). From "The Debris Field":
Down here the water is so cold and heavy
time stands still—
even the cheese wheels are edible
and the wine is still as fine
as it was that final night.
A lot of research went into this collection, published on the 100th anniversary of the sinking. The poems are authentic and perceptive. I've been a fan of Nickerson's poetry for some time, and never so much as while reading this book.