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The Occupied World

by (author) Alice Major

The University of Alberta Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2006
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2006
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In ancient Roman times rituals were performed to sanctify the ground on which new cities were founded. With this invocation, space could then be occupied. In her brilliant new collection, Alice Major's poems concern themselves with human occupation: how we occupy cities; how we occupy ourselves as citizens, workers and thinkers; how we occupy mythologies and metaphors; and how we occupy the passage of our lives. Written largely in a public voice, these poems invoke human preoccupations that resonate through landscapes of time and space.

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

Editorial Reviews

"Strongly recommended to anyone who enjoys a well crafted poem that engenders a reflective appreciation for the language of poetry." Midwest Book Review, 2007

"Alice Major, Edmonton's first poet laureate, is one of Canada's finest writers. Her creations have their genesis in a brilliant, encyclopedic, and inventive mind and are brought to fruition through meticulous craftsmanship. History, hagiography, geography, geology, physics, politics, mathematics, mythology, archaeology, the arts-certainly human relationships: there is little that sooner or later is not transformed by her verse. An overarching intelligence characterizes each of her collections, imparting to them a sense of design and purpose. There is a diamond clarity to these poems, and a conviction that, just as matter predominates over antimatter by a tiny margin, so what is right and good will edge out their opposites in this world our dwelling place: In all the ephemeral collisions / between humanity and space, there's hope / we might achieve a balance on the side of grace, / a slight preponderance of beauty. These are poems to make you catch your breath." Neil Querengesser, Canadian Literature, Spring 2007. Full review at:

"So many troubling connotations to 'occupations'! Major tackles the complex meaning of the word, and the result is a dark and thoughtful collection of poetry with equal tendencies toward pessimism and beauty..Heady stuff, indeed. Major's first collection written as poet laureate for the City of Edmonton, The Occupied World is a far cry from civic boosterism. It might fairly be called the opposite: a sober voice calling for a more considered approach to the way we humans 'occupy' our world." Evan Osenton, Alberta Views, April 2007.

"Alice Major's newest collection, The Occupied World, is a vibrant exploration of what is at the heart of a city. Based in Edmonton, where Major lives, The Occupied World moves fluidly between the traditional and the modern. It effortlessly sweeps from Roman rituals for the selecting and naming of a city's birthplace, to downtown encounters with local youths and those living on the street. Major even makes the leap beyond Earth itself, taking a hard look at why we insist on casting our small lives out into space, hoping and dreading the resulting possibility of contact. This is no light read; it's a collection that requires the innate trust of its audience, as it speeds from global view to city-specific in a short few pages. Once immersed in this book, there are no easy answers when Major questions what home really is. I have rarely encountered a current collection where the vox populi is used so brilliantly and to such effect. ... The Occupied World is a collection of incredible luminosity, embracing both the objective and the personal and fashioning from them something quite rare." Jenna Butler,, September 20, 2008

"[Roy] Miki's Alberta colleague, Alice Major, works in the older tradition of short, natural-voice, lyric free-verse poems and does so with impressive scholarly vigour...A really fine lyric is a noble thing to hunt for. Poet Lorna Crozier has often captured it and might be Major's closest literary relative -- though parts of The Occupied World are also reminiscent of that small branch of scientific-style poetry practised in Canada by the stellar Mari-Lou Rowley. Lyle Neff, Vancouver Sun, April 7, 2007

"In her seventh collection of poetry, Alice Major invites the reader to consider new and deeper ways of looking at what we are doing here and how we live in the world. Major's language is colourful and often musical. Rich in assonance and alliteration, [Major] writes quietly observant poems that insist on the significance of ordinary human actions. Her work opens up the hidden depths of the everyday, and shows that nothing is truly commonplace." Joanne Epp, Prairie Fire Review of Books (Full review at

"Alice Major's latest collection of poems, The Occupied World, is thematically occupied with one central concern: What does it mean to be a citizen? Major, the city of Edmonton's poet laureate, writes passionately and convincingly about the texture and heritage of the modern city. One of Major's strengths is her striking use of imagery..She also captures the variability of city life, from the endless theatrics of children to the somber rituals observed within a city's limits..But the book is rooted in history, from the opening section of poems, which uses the extended metaphor of ancient Roman rituals for sanctifying the ground on which new cities are founded, to the closing series about the geological history of Edmonton." Ian LeTourneau, Legacy, Spring 2007.

"Nature, the constructed world and time are frequent topics in The Occupied World, by Alice Major, Edmonton¹s first-ever poet laureate. And all three interrelate. Among evocative descriptions of rivers and bridges, trees and oil wells, Major weaves images of pendulums, babies that might or might not be born and 'borrowed days', all suggesting a pause in time, a suspended moment in which something is decided. Such pauses feel somewhat ominous, like a warning birdcall in a seemingly safe forest. For carried within the poems is the reminder that we'll ultimately get what we deserve from the decisions we make in carving our constructed world out of nature. Yet Major's message, while steadfast, is communicated with a light touch." Kristine Kowalchuk, Westworld, April 2007.

"The Occupied World is Alice Major's seventh collection, and it eloquently connects the public and private worlds of poetry. As a public poet, Major is completing a two-year term as the first poet laureate of Edmonton. Much of the book revolves around her private interest in subjects like ancient folk traditions, quantum physics, and number and string theory. Major uses simple declarative sentences as ways of framing poems, and unsentimental precision marks her style. "I Never Thought I'd Write a Hockey Poem" is perhaps the most public poem in the book, having been commissioned for public performance by the mayor of Edmonton and published in the Globe and Mail. It's about the Oiler's joyously improbable playoff run last spring." Maurice Mierau, Winnipeg Free Press, November 26, 2006

"In this work in particular Alice connects the public and private worlds of poetry. As a public poet, Major is completing a two-year term as the first poet laureate of Edmonton. Much of The Occupied World revolves around her private interest in subjects like ancient folk traditions, quantum physics, and number and string theory. She uses simple declarative sentences as ways of framing poems, and unsentimental precision marks her style." Sheelagh Caygill, January 29 2007, full review at:

"Our cities, our time, our mythologies and metaphors-these poems look at how we occupy, and preoccupy, ourselves today, using frameworks such as the founding rituals of ancient Rome, a book of days, mathematical theories, and musical pieces." Prairie Books NOW, Spring 2007

"The Occupied World makes available to the reading public [Major's] distinctive and accomplished verse, where she addresses such diverse themes as the human occupation of cities, mythologies, metaphors, and the passage of our lives." The Midwest Book Review, May 2007

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

Standard candles

by (author) Alice Major

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

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