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Poetry Canadian

Standard candles

by (author) Alice Major

The University of Alberta Press
Initial publish date
Jul 2015
Canadian, Metaphysics, Cosmology, Philosophy & Social Aspects
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2015
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Nov 2015
    List Price

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Like the ever-widening universe, Standard candles expands on Alice Major’s earlier themes of family, mythology, and cosmology, teasing out subtle wonders in form and subject. Her voice resonates through experiments with old and new poetic forms as she imbues observed and imagined phenomena—from the centres of galaxies to the mysteries of her own backyard—with the most grounded and grounding moments of human experience. In Standard candles, readers will find an emotional dimension that seamlessly intersects with the dimensions of space and time. Fans of Alice Major will enjoy seeing her work through familiar themes, while readers new to her poetry will discover unexplored universes.

Alice Major emigrated from Scotland at the age of eight, and grew up in Toronto before coming west to work as a weekly newspaper reporter. She served as Edmonton’s first poet laureate and has been inducted into the city’s cultural hall of fame. A widely-published author, she has won many distinctions. Her most recent book is Intersecting Sets: A Poet Looks at Science, which received the Wilfrid Eggleston Award for Nonfiction as well as a National Magazine Award gold medal. Her website is

Let us compare cosmologies

There is a beginning and a middle. There is an arc of narrative. There is a word, a large engraved initial. There is imperative— a cause, a god. Or not. There is an end. A purpose. Or maybe none. There is a plot with reasons, reason. There is a circus, a theatre stage of space and time. There are equations at the bottom or the top. There is a pantheon of matter, motion, scattered photons. And the questions every universe expects: what came before? What happens next?

About the author

Alice Major emigrated from Scotland at the age of eight, and grew up in Toronto before coming west to work as a weekly newspaper reporter. She served as the City of Edmonton’s first poet laureate from 2005–2007. Among her previous books are Memory's Daughter, for which she won the Stephan G. Stephansson Award in 2011; The Occupied World; and The Office Tower Tales, for which she won the Pat Lowther Award in 2009. In 2010, she received a lifetime achievement award, presented by the City of Edmonton and the Professional Arts Coalition of Edmonton.

Alice Major's profile page


  • Winner, Robert Kroetsch Award for Poetry, Alberta Book Awards, Book Publishers Association of Alberta
  • Short-listed, League of Canadian Poets / Raymond Souster Award
  • Short-listed, Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry – Alberta Literary Awards

Editorial Reviews

"In her latest poetry collection, Standard candles, Alice Major continues to draw from science as a source of metaphor to ground the big ideas floating around the universe. Like Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson, who bring scientific concepts to a public consciousness in their documentary television shows, Major takes up the poet's essential challenge to make grand concepts accessible and relatable to the reader. The result is a collection of thoughtfully crafted suites that feel mythological or biblical in scale, yet as familiar and common as our offices or kitchens.... In reading Standard candles, there is the potential for a most palpable experience of having one's mind blown. Readers will certainly find themselves putting the book down to stare out the window at the night sky and feel a sense of loneliness wrapped in communion." Prairie Books Now, Fall/Winter 2015

Prairie Books Now

#9 on the Edmonton Journal's Bestsellers list for the week of January 16, 2016.

The Edmonton Journal

"The result is a study of the universe, certainly, but also of childhood wonder, hardscrabble wisdom and inevitable grief... To Major, [standard candles] isn't just euphonious, it's a poignant metaphor for mortality, loss and the connectedness of all things."

Edmonton Journal

"In her poetry she uses her knowledge of specialised – even arcane – fields in the same way that British playwrights Tom Stoppard and Michael Frayn have done: to provide startling and vivid analogies with the human dynamics of a complex emotional universe with which her readers will be more familiar. This is a handsomely produced and carefully organized book, divided into themed sections.... This substantial collection gives ample evidence of Major’s poetic craft and verbal dexterity.... [A] fine collection." [Full review at]

#6 on the Edmonton Journal's Bestsellers list (Edmonton Nonfiction) for the week of November 06 2015.

The Edmonton Journal

"In this book Major provides us with some STEAM, i.e., Science Technology Engineering Art Math! She uses geometry, math and theories as entry points into slices of domestic life. Her poems are precise in their diction, dense in their content, and technically proficient. The entire work is a dense and beautiful existential rumination. The comparisons and metaphors are fresh and unexpected."

Juror, 2016 Stephan G. Stephansson Award

"Standard candles is also a poetic inquiry of sorts – a skillful exploration of the overlap between poetry and science/mathematics. The poems range from abstract and philosophical to imagery-rich and personal. The book asks questions and puts forward theories that playfully push at the bounds of both science and poetry – for example, positing a pantheon of gods and goddesses in charge of various aspects of the universe and its creation. A high level of poetic skill informs this work, and the sections build upon one another to create a complex and varied collection."

Juror, 2016 Stephan G. Stephansson Award

"Standard candles works on so many levels. It demonstrates the capacity of poetry to make connections between subjects of varying complexities with very intentional word combinations, strong sounds, complete conceits, different forms and material grounded in the quotidian, scientific and mythical. Each chapter, with a consistent theme or question and built upon, has a strength that if extracted they could easily stand on their own like an individual collection. Throughout, the individual poems are exceptional, each feeling complete because of their spine or axis that the theme(s), conceits and word choices support."

Juror, 2016 Stephan G. Stephansson Award

" of Alice Major’s strengths is her ability to introduce an idea as sweeping as ‘science’ and distill it down to a moment, a memory, an object. No one but Major could have written this book: in a way no other poet consistently does, she grasps the edges of the universe and pulls it into a headlock. Her work has the precision of Leonard Cohen (whom she purposely invokes): a rare ability to condense the monumental into the quietly personal." [Full review at]

ARC Poetry Magazine

"Alice Major’s 10th poetry collection, Standard candles, covers a huge distance in its slim text, racing through a dozen different poetic forms and countless cosmologies. It references everything from Greek mythology to quantum uncertainty to Henrietta Swan Leavitt, the inventor of the standard candle itself. The book is like an ultra-dense kernel containing all things—history, theology, astronomy, geometry, an infinite list. It’s the universe right before the Big Bang, titanic forces contained within a few thousand tightly packed words, almost ready to explode and race endlessly out." [Full review at]

Vue Weekly

"[In Standard candles, Major] has everything that I most love, most want, in poetry: wit, startling originality, the power to move without a shred of sentimentality or manipulation – and perhaps most of all, the ability to take you somewhere new both intellectually and experientially.” [Full post at]

#10 on the Edmonton Journal's Bestsellers list for the week of November 13, 2015.

The Edmonton Journal

Other titles by Alice Major

Locations of Grief

An Emotional Geography

edited by Catherine Owen
contributions by Alice Major, Katherine Bitney, Alice Burdick, Marilyn Dumont, Ben Gallagher, Catherine Greenwood, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Richard Harrison, David Haskins, Steven Heighton, Theresa Kishkan, Christine Lowther, Canisia Lubrin, James Picard, Nikki Reimer, Waubgeshig Rice, Lisa Richter, Lynn Tait, Sharon Thesen, Onjana Yawnghwe & Daniel Zomparelli
by (author) Jenna Butler & Catherine Graham


An Anthology of Essays

edited by Rona Altrows & Julie Sedivy
contributions by Samantha Albert, Sharon Butala, Jane Cawthorne, Weyman Chan, Rebecca Danos, Patti Edgar, Leslie Greentree, John Graham-Pole, Edythe Hanen, Vivian Hansen, Jane Harris, Richard Harrison, Lee Kvern, Elizabeth Haynes, Anne Lévesque, Margaret Macpherson, Alice Major, Wendy McGrath, Stuart McKay, Lorri Neilsen Glenn, Susan Olding, Roberta Rees, Kathy Seifert, Cora Siré, Steven Smith, Anne Sorbie, Glen Sorestad, Kelly Thompson, Robin Eck & Aritha van Herk

Welcome to the Anthropocene

by (author) Alice Major

Ten Canadian Writers in Context

edited by Marie Carrière, Curtis Gillespie & Jason Purcell
contributions by Lynn Coady, Ying Chen, Michael Crummey, Jennifer Bowering Delisle, Kit Dobson, Caterina Edwards, Marina Endicott, Lawrence Hill, Daniel Laforest, Alice Major, Don Perkins, Julie Rodgers, Joseph Pivato, Eden Robinson, Gregory Scofield, Winfried Siemerling, Pamela Sing, Maïté Snauwaert, Kim Thúy & Angela Van Essen

The Jade Spindle

by (author) Alice Major

The Office Tower Tales

by (author) Alice Major

Intersecting Sets

A Poet Looks at Science

by (author) Alice Major

Memory's Daughter

by (author) Alice Major

The Occupied World

by (author) Alice Major

Writing the Terrain

Travelling Through Alberta with the Poets

contributions by Ian Adam, Robert Stamp, Tammy Armstrong, Margaret Avison, Douglas Barbour, John O. Barton, Doug Beardsley, Bonnie Bishop, E.D. Blodgett, Robert Boates, George Bowering, Tim Bowling, Jan Boydol, Gordon Burles, Murdoch Burnett, Anne Campbell, Weyman Chan, Leonard Cohen, Dennis Cooley, Joan Crate, Michael Cullen, Cyril Dabydeen, Lorne Daniel, Alexa DeWiel, Jason Dewinetz, ryan fitzpatrick, Cecelia Frey, Gary Geddes, Gail Ghai, Deborah Godin, Jim Green, Leslie Greentree, Vivian Hansen, Tom Henihan, Michael Henry, Walter Hildebrandt, Gerald Hill, Robert Hilles, Nancy Holmes, Richard Hornsey, Tom Howe, Aislinn Hunter, Bruce Hunter, Laurence Hutchman, Sally Ito, Pauline Johnson, Aleksei Kazuk, Robert Kroetsch, Fiona Lam, William Latta, Tim Lilburn, Alice Major, Kim Maltman, Miriam Mandel, Sid Marty, David McFadden, Barry McKinnon, Erin Michie, Deborah Miller, Anna Mioduchowska, James M. Moir, Colin Morton, Erín Moure, Charles Noble, P.K. Page, Rajinderpal Pal, Ruth Roach Pierson, Joseph Pivato, Roberta Rees, D.C. Reid, Monty Reid, R. rickey, Ken Rivard, Stephen Scobie, Allan Serafino, Joan Shillington, Greg Simison, Carol Ann Sokoloff, Karen Solie, Stephan Stephansson, Peter Stevens, Ivan Sundal, Anne Swannell, Vanna Tessier, Colleen Thibadeau, John O. Thompson, James M. Thurgood, Eva Tihanyi, Yvonne Trainer, Aritha van Herk, Rosalee van Stelten, Miriam Waddington, James Wreford Watson, Wilfred Watson, Tom Wayman, Phyllis Webb, Jon Whyte, Christine Wiesenthal, Sheri-D Wilson, Christopher Wiseman, Stacie Wolfer, Rita Wong, Richard Woollatt & Jan Zwicky