This spring we've made it our mission (even more than usual) to celebrate new releases in the wake of cancelled launch parties, book festivals, and reading series. With 49th Shelf Launchpad, we're holding virtual launch parties here on our platform complete with witty banter and great insight to give you a taste of the books on offer. You can request these books from your local library, get them as e-books or audio books, order them from your local indie bookseller if they're delivering, buy them direct from the publisher or from online retailers.
Today we're launching Murmurations, by Annick MacAskill, whose previous book was nominated for the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and shortlisted for the J. M. Abraham Poetry Award (Atlantic Book Awards).
The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence.
Murmurations is a book of love poems, heavy on the bird imagery.
Describe your ideal reader.
Any reader is my ideal reader! But to play fair: anyone who’s wondered what lovers and birds have to do with each other, or what birdsongs have to do with sonnets, or why language fails us no matter how hard we try.
What authors/books is your work in conversation with?
My book includes epigraphs at the beginning of each section—Don McKay, Anne Carson, Carol Ann Duffy, Audre Lorde, Louise Glück, and Sappho (as translated by Edwin Marion Cox). So, if I did my job right, the book is in conversation with these poets.
What is something interesting you learned about your book/yourself/ your subject during the process of creating and publishing your book?
People still want to read love poetry. People quite like birds.
When I set out to write Murmurations, several poets I know were quite open about their derision for poetry about love and nature (this wasn’t necessarily in response to my own poetry, but regardless, I took their disdain as a sign I was doing something right). From what I gather, there’s an assumption that love and nature are these archaic, dusty subjects. But, you know, as a queer woman, I look at the traditions of love and nature poetry and I don’t see myself. There’s something risky and vulnerable with love poetry in particular, even for straight women. I think of the sixteenth-century French writer Louise Labé, whose sensual poems attracted the condemnation of John Calvin (he famously called her a plebeia meretrix, “a common whore”). For women writers, for queer writers, there is something inherently subversive about laying claim to our love and our desires, and there’s still a newness to this terrain—the task is not just to insert ourselves, but to redefine the relationship between lover and beloved, and even love itself. I think, for example, of several of the poets I mentioned above (Audre Lorde and Carol Ann Duffy especially), as well as writers like Arleen Paré, whose work explicitly centres the love of queer women (The Girls with Stone Faces), and Noor Naga, whose debut Washes, Prays (just out with McClelland & Stewart), focuses on a young racialized, immigrant woman’s experience of love and eroticism... Even staying within the limits of poetry produced in what we now call Canada, there’s a whole host of other writers I could name—like Kevin Shaw, Kirby, and Adèle Barclay—who are producing such fine work that both adapts and exists outside of what has traditionally been made of love or erotic poetry. And despite what some say about the genre, there’s clearly an audience for these books.
What is something your ideal interviewer would ask you about your book?
Please won’t someone ask me what I think about Petrarch.
An important part of any book launch are the thank you’s. Go ahead, and acknowledge someone whose support has been integral to this project.
I can never say enough about the poets who surround me here in Halifax, like my friends and often-times first readers Jaime Forsythe, Nanci Lee, Alison Smith, Sam Sternberg, Andy Verboom, Anna Quon, and Nolan Natasha. They’ve been incredibly encouraging of my writing. They’re also all wonderful poets, and I’m in awe of the work they do.
I also, like all small-press authors, owe a lot to independent bookstores, especially Bookmark II and the King’s Co-op Bookstore here in Halifax, Lexicon Books in Lunenburg, and Knife Fork Book in Toronto.
What are you reading right now or next?
I’ve been re-reading Ariane Lessard’s debut novel Feue, and Alison Smith’s third poetry collection This Kind of Thinking Does No Good, for many reasons, but mainly for their insights into misogyny. In terms of new titles, this spring’s poetry season is something else. I’ve been enjoying Sadiqa de Meijer’s The Outer Wards, Canisia Lubrin’s The Dyzgraphxst, and Sue Goyette’s Anthesis, in particular.
Murmurations is a collection of love poems that explores how intimacy tests the capacity of language—how music is also noise and the prospect for miscommunication abounds. Populating her poems with birdsong and murmurings of the natural world, MacAskill highlights how poets and lovers share much with birders on the twitch, how even keen observation and intense passion can fail us as we pursue our beloved across distances and through time. Yet when we do finally find love it often seems, like a rare bird, “at once / singular and improbable / because of how clearly it appeared to us.”