When I began writing poetry in earnest, I marvelled at how many Chinese Canadians writers were out there.
Throughout nine years in high school and university in Vancouver, I read, in total, maybe one or two books by Chinese Canadian authors.
And yet for many decades, unbeknownst to me, people who looked like me were devoting their lives to writing. I studied Donne, Dickinson, and Shakespeare (so much Shakespeare), not knowing there were living poets too who were worth my time.
Funny poets. Wonderful poets. Chinese Canadian poets who were writing about food, family, and the places they’ve been in this new place we all now call home…
I did not know what was possible.
Reading these writers’ works today has made me feel more connected to not only where I came from, but also where I am now. I think that is one of diaspora’s superpowers. No matter where you are from, I hope you can feel that connectedness through these poems as we do.
I would have loved to have read these Chinese Canadian poets in school.
They would’ve shown me what was possible.
This week we’re in conversation with Griffin Poetry Prize winner Jordan Abel, whose powerful poetry project NISHGA was released over the summer with McClelland & Stewart.
Author Billy-Ray Belcourt says “Abel sculpts a narrative of dislocation and self-examination that pressurizes received notions of “Canada” and “history” and “art” and “literature” and “belonging” and “forgiveness”… By its Afterword, NISHGA adds up to a work of personal and national reckoning that is by turns heartbreaking and scathing.”
Jordan Abel is a Nisga'a writer from Vancouver. He is the author of The Place of Scraps (winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize), Un/inhabited, and Injun (winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize). Abel's work has recently been anthologized in The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21st Century (Hayward), The Next Wave: An Anthology of 21st Century Canadian Poetry (Anstruther), Best Canadian Poetry (Tightrope), Counter-Desecration: A Glossary for Writing Within the Anthropocene (Wesleyan), and The Land We Are: Artists and Writers Unsettle the Politics of Reconciliation (ARP). Abel's work has been published in numerous journals and magazines—including Canadian Literature, The Capilano Review, and Poetry Is Dead—and his visual poetry has been included in exhibitions at the Polygon Gallery, UNIT/PITT Gallery, and the Oslo Pilot Project Room in Oslo, Norway. Abel recently completed a PhD at Simon Fraser University, and is currently working as an A …
From sea to sea, Canadian communities offer immigrants welcoming inclusive spaces. While I started writing as a preteen, I became a published author after our family moved to Canada 17 years ago. As I look forward to the September publication of my seventh book, A Good Name, I remain thankful for the many opportunities this land bestows on newcomers.
Writers of Nigerian descent are world-renowned for the breadth and vibrancy of their art. I am proud of this heritage. Therefore, I am honoured to shine a spotlight on the following writers whose works add invaluable green and white threads to the grand tapestry of Canadian literature.
Butter Honey Pig Bread, by Francesca Ekwuyasi
Ekwuyasi’s debut novel is a story about choices and their consequences, of motherhood, of the malleable line between the spirit and the mind, of finding new homes and mending old ones, of voracious appetites, of queer love, of friendship, faith, and above all, family.
Longlisted for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize, this novel is a reader’s treat. I’ve always been a fa …
Part three of our Fall Preview is poetry, a mixture of impressive debuts and releases by favourites.
The constraint-based poems in the debut collection, A Future Perfect (August), by Razielle Aigen, are written in the future-perfect tense, used as a way of bending time and playing with non-linearity. (Re)Generation (August) contains selected poetry by Anishinaabe writer Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm that deals with a range of issues, from violence against Indigenous women and lands, to Indigenous erotica and the joyous intimate encounters between bodies. And Make the World New (August) brings together some of the highlights of the work of Lillian Allen, one of the leading creative Black feminist voices in Canada, and is the first book of her poems to be published in over 20 years, edited by Ronald Cummings.
With echoes of Jacques Brault, Simone Weil, Baudelaire and Petrarch, in Of Love (October), Paul Bélanger continues his poetic quest for the sources of spiritual ecstasy. The Answer to Everything (September) showcases the definitive works of Ken Belfo …
Anne Carson's Norma Jeane Baker of Troy (New Directions) is this year’s recipient of the Governor General’s Literature Award for Poetry.
According to the Governor General's Peer Assessment Committee, “Norma Jeane Baker of Troy leverages a millennia-old story of beauty and war to animate a history of the male gaze and the nature of power wielded by privilege. Tracing its origins from ancient and modern forms, the book inquires into the history of language and being. It exposes the uncertainty and vulnerability that underpin our desire for ‘the precision of command.’ The oceanic pull of Carson’s poetry uses irreverence to lure and wreck our concepts of time, place and subject.”
Anne Carson is a Toronto-born poet, essayist, classicist, and translator who has also taught at Canadian and American universities including McGill and Princeton. A Member of the Order of Canada with more than 20 titles to her name, she recently received a Princess of Asturias Award. Throughout her career, Carson’s work has earned her Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships, two Griffin Poetry Prizes, the T. S. Eliot Prize, and the Lannan Literary Award, among many other honours. Anne Carson now divides her time between the US and Iceland.
Norma Jeane Baker of Troy is a performa …
I come from a landscape best known for open spaces and wide skies. While I love that about the prairies, when I go out walking I’m just as likely to be attracted by small things: wildflowers, most often, but also birds, butterflies, and interesting twigs.
Likewise, when I write a poem, the starting point is inevitably something small and specific.
All these books share the quality of paying close attention to the small and particular, whether that’s a plot of land with all its seasonal changes or the distinction between one kind of wood-warbler and another.
Manitoba Butterflies, by Simone Hébert Allard
This beautiful field guide contains life-sized photos of every butterfly found in Manitoba, arranged in order from largest (Monarch) to smallest (Least Skipper), along with enlarged photos of their eggs, larvae, and pupae. The book begins with a few chapters of general information, which I confess I have never read. I go straight to …
We’re so pleased to be partnering once again with our friends at the Griffin Poetry Prize to profile this year’s three Canadian finalists in a special roundtable edition of The Chat. Don’t forget to enter our Griffin Prize contest giveaway for a chance to win a prize pack of all three of this year’s titles!
This 2021 shortlisted Canadian titles are:
The East Side of It All, by Joseph Dandurand (Nightwood Editions)
Joseph Dandurand is a storyteller, poet, playwright and member of Kwantlen First Nation located on the Fraser River about twenty minutes east of Vancouver. He resides there with his three children. Dandurand is the director of the Kwantlen Cultural Centre, artistic director of the Vancouver Poetry House, and author of three other books of poetry, I Want (2015), Hear and Foretell (2015), and SH:LAM (The Doctor) (2015). Dandurand was Vancouver Public Library’s 2019 Indigenous storyteller in residence.
The Dyzgraphxst, by Canisia Lubrin (McClelland & Stewart)
Canisia Lubrin is a writer, editor, and teacher published and anthologised int …
I often marvel at how particularly suited poetry is for memoir. Something of the intensity of feeling, sparseness of narrative and intricacy of images in poetry feels like memory itself to me. The multiplicity that can be found in poetry hits on the bigger truth that our own histories have so many meanings resting on top of and running parallel to each other in the beautiful chaotic free fall that is our lives.
This is a list of books similar to my debut collection Run Riot: Ninety Poems in Ninety Days in which poetry is the medium through which the past is explored, and what raucous, solace-full explorations they are. I hope you get the chance to read at least a few of these great books.
The Pit, by Tara Borin
Take a trip up north to Dawson City and pull up a barstool at the local watering hole with this little gem of a collection. When I finished reading The Pit I felt as though I could walk into Dawson City’s local bar and feel right at home. Borin’s poetic storytelling brings the ghosts of that old hotel in the north to life. When you finis …
Jen Sookfong Lee's new book is The Shadow List.
I am not a natural poetry reader, in the way that I imagine very dedicated poetry readers exist. I have always pictured them poring over poems, interrogating each word and line break, ferreting out the purpose in every authorial decision. This is probably a myth, but the fact remains that I have never read like that.
I am a big picture reader. I read quickly on the first pass, then go back for more, dipping in and out in spots where I feel the need to bask in an image or a line or a single word. I am the sunbather of poetry readers. A beach fan of poems. A poetry drifter, even.
Genre is not something that defines my writing and it certainly doesn’t define my reading. There are moments of poetry in many books of prose that I love, and narrative threads in many of the poetry books that I have treasured. This list will be a bit of mishmash, but then so is my brain.
The T.E. Lawrence Poems, by Gwendolyn MacEwen
I have been a fangirl of Gwendolyn MacEwen’s since I was 17 years old, and my love for her h …
As I began writing what would become Fuse (a memoir of mental health and mixed-race identity) I became desperate to find Iranian Canadian voices to help ground and situate my own—a task that proved somewhat more difficult than I thought it would be.
Or should be.
After all, hundreds of thousands of Iranian people call Canada home, and Iran is the birthplace of Rumi, one of the most celebrated poets of all time. The Iranian people have created a fine, strong tradition of poetry, story-telling and literature. My father, much like the endearingly zealous father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, never let me forget this: Persian poetry is the most beautiful. The stories, the most compelling.
So, where were all the Persian Canadian writers? It turns out, here all along, but not as represented as one might hope; as they deserve to be.
This reading list is part of my attempt to bring more of the work of Persian-Canadian writers to light; to give people a taste of the organoleptic artistry that I feel is at the singular heart of so much of the Iranian writing.
Lezzat bebarid! Enjoy!
These are poetry collections worth your attention this spring as we cap off National Poetry Month. And don't miss the League of Canadian Poets Longlists for their 2021 Awards for more poetic splendour.
Undoing Hours, by Selina Boan
About the book: Selina Boan’s debut poetry collection, Undoing Hours, considers the various ways we undo, inherit, reclaim and (re)learn. Boan’s poems emphasize sound and breath. They tell stories of meeting family, of experiencing love and heartbreak, and of learning new ways to express and understand the world around her through nêhiyawêwin.
As a settler and urban nehiyaw who grew up disconnected from her father’s family and community, Boan turns to language as one way to challenge the impact of assimilation policies and colonization on her own being and the landscapes she inhabits. Exploring the nexus of language and power, the effects of which are both far-reaching and deeply intimate, these poems consider the ways language impacts the way we view and construct the world around us. Boan also explores what it means to be a white settler-nehiyaw woman actively building community and working to ground herself through language and relationships. Boan writes from a place of linguistic tension, tenderness and care, creating sp …
Michelle Butler Hallett's latest novel is Constant Nobody, and we've got three copies up for giveaway right now.
I’m often plagued by self-doubt when writing, when trying to serve a story and give it what it needs, however strange, upsetting, or just plain weird that might be. Sometimes I borrow courage from aesthetic and thematic outliers.
A Stone Diary, by Pat Lowther
A Stone Diary is such a strong collection, one that takes many risks with subject, themes, and form with confidence and control. Lowther’s often slant perspective is compelling, almost hypnotic—in “Craneflies in Their Season,” for example, and “It Happens Every Day.” Many of the poems examine violence, intimate and state-induced, from “I.D.” to “Chacabuco, The Pit.” Violence is still something of a taboo subject for women writers now, let alone in in the 1970s. I admire how Lowther portrays violence: harrowing, yet never gratuitous, allowing space to acknowledge, consider, and recognize the full truths of being human.