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Poetry Canadian


by (author) Neil Surkan

McGill-Queen's University Press
Initial publish date
Nov 2021
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Nov 2021
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Nov 2021
    List Price

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Subtler, subtler, beat our hearts / down aisles of cluttered glitz.

Unbecoming, Neil Surkan's sophomore collection, clings to hope while the world deteriorates, transforms, and grows less hospitable from moment to moment. Interplaying tenderness with dogged perseverance, these poems tumble through vignettes of degraded landscapes, ebbing spiritual communities, faltering men, and precarious friendships.

Yet, in the face of such despair, responsibility and optimism bolster one another – exuberance, amazement, and compassion persist despite the worsening of the wounded Earth. Multifaceted and inventive, this collection of poems vaults from intimation to excoriation, where grief, desire, bewilderment, and protest all crackle and meld.

As the world "appears, exceeds, and un- / becomes too quickly for certainty, / just enough for love," the poems in Unbecoming face the horizon with wary eyes and refuse to turn away.

About the author

Neil Surkan is the author of the poetry collection On High and the chapbooks Their Queer Tenderness and Super, Natural. He lives in Calgary.

Neil Surkan's profile page


  • Short-listed, W.O. Mitchell Book Prize

Editorial Reviews

"A celery-green river unlocking, fossils chiselled out of rock ledges, third-generation firs – the natural world shifts, is altered, revises itself. In Unbecoming, love is change. Neil Surkan refutes gender scripts, makes visible the tenderness between men. 'I've a new, / unfurling sense,' he writes. Clear-eyed, rich with dazzling imagery, his poems blaze with the elemental: water, sky, land, and love." Eduardo C. Corral, author of Guillotine: Poems

"The poems collected in this outstanding volume are alive with quirky but resonant phrases ('Gnomes // lazing on pea gravel / beside a breeze-blocked truck'), with haunting character sketches and glimpses into both the mysteries of nature and the whirligig motions of a restless imagination. Surkan slides effortlessly from quotidian scenes into intimations of the sublime, from probes into his personal and family history to witty conjugations of weather and landscape. Elegant, unpredictable, inventive, these poems linger long in the memory." Mark Ford, author of Enter, Fleeing

""What is the minimum required?" Reading Neil Surkan, minimum maximizes the elegant, sparing truth in a poetics where each line is drawn to incise, open, lay things bare. "He wonders" the driving force of Surkan's sophomore effort, "Poetry is such a wounded smell. At best, we feel exhilarated by our rootedness," deepened as questions, good questions, 'stream in floods of words that, / like fish scales on furniture, / cling for awhile and shine / the dull way dried tears shine." Here, the promise of Surkan's debut bursts forth. Wonder becomes wondrous, "The still symmetry continues," and baby the infinities shine bright. "Why are you so invested in keeping us alive?" This collection insists we're still breathing, there's a beat. Unbecoming is nothing less than brilliant." Kirby, author of This Is Where I Get Off and Poetry Is Queer

"Unbecoming is calm, but never still – every detail buzzes. Inquisitive and playful, these poems wander between generations, between 'days without injury,' between what we hold on to and what we throw away. And yet, 'all we vanished / persists where blue dozed / on old maps: a nurdled / vortex, a snaggled / garbage patch, expands.' To visit the places and meet the people of Surkan's poetry is to be reminded 'how much it means / we get to change,' and perhaps how much we need to change." T. Liem, author of Obits

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