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Behind the Poem: Ariel Gordon and the How-To Poems

Book Cover Stowaways

Governor-General's Award-winning poet Julie Bruck writes of Ariel Gordon's second collection, Stowaways, "These are nervy poems that refuse to behave themselves. They are something to celebrate." Throughout the collection, the wild and the domestic intersect (and misbehave!) in surprising and illuminating ways. A particular highlight of the book are Gordon's "How-To" poems. In this guest post, Gordon gives us their background, and shares "How to Write a Poem." 


I’ve spent a lot of my life as a passenger.

Sitting with a notebook and a pencil dug from the gritty bottom of my bag while someone else navigated, writing because I’d “seen something.”

We’d arrive somewhere and I’d have no idea where we were. And I’d just shrug, because I’d be hauled home, too. And I had the beginnings of a poem in my notebook, humming to itself smugly.

When I finally got my own car, I was in my mid-30s. And my mental map of Winnipeg was all elaborate bus routes and jaywalking.

But I had to be present when driving my little Prius. I had to monitor the process of getting from A to B, where before I would park my body and just monitor my thoughts, fingers moving over the marked-up pages. 

I mourned a little when I no longer had a long bus ride to university—and a bust-proof …

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Behind the Poem: “N’s evening raga,” from children of air india

Renée Sarojini Saklikar's collection, children of air india, is a finalist for the 2014 BC Book Prize's Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. In her Quill & Quire review, Natalie Zina Walschots writes:

"The book is a testament, both vulnerable and damning. The poems replicate various personal and public responses to the [1985 Air India] attack: exhibits, archival objects, invocations. Saklikar wrestles with vast, devastating emotions, while at the same time gently cradling individual lives, allowing them to stand as their own record of loss. One victim “plays ice hockey,” another wears “black socks” of “fine-gauge wool.” Saklikar pairs the erasure of the victims’ bodies with the redaction of details in official documents and the retraction of evidence in court."

Here, Renée Sarojini Saklikar shares the story of one particular poem, which provides insight into the collection as a whole.


Witness Statement: “… and of the poem, its boundaries and prohibitions—“

In the five-year process of writing children of air india, “N’s evening raga” was one of the first transcriptions to be set down on paper. I remember this poem’s arrival: evening, late spring, I am at my desk in my office overlooking the Fraser River. I turn away from the computer scre …

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Behind the Poem: "When You Learn to Swim" by Souvankham Thammavongsa

In his reviewGlobe and Mail Books Editor Jared Bland called the poems in Souvankham Thammavongsa's new book, Light, "by turns ethereal, beguiling and riveting in their dramatic exploration of the book’s thematic terrain," and noted that, "[t]his new collection confirms Thammavongsa’s place as one of the most interesting younger poets at work in the country." 

In this piece, she tells the story behind one of the poems from Light


A few years ago, I took a class, swimming lessons for adults. We shared the pool with another class for children. They ranged in age, maybe four to six years old. They were really tiny, the shallow end of the pool came up to their chins or around their ears. They took to their lessons really well, with enthusiasm and each week, each would grow with confidence. The adults, the class I was in, had a hard time learning, believing that they could float at all. By the fourth week, some were just beginning to put their whole face in the water. It wasn't that they were scared of the water or experienced some trauma that made swimming difficult. It was that none of us trusted what we were told about ourselves and the water, that we would float, if we let go.

The children needed to be told this once and they plunged forward, floating. The …

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