This month on All Lit Up, we're putting a spotlight on books by and about women and the people behind them. Today's publisher in profile is Brick Books, a fiercely independent poetry press now owned exclusively by women, that offers beautifully designed poetry books by established and underrepresented poets from across Canada.
Scroll on to read more about Brick Books and find recommendations for your “books to read by women” list.
1975: the year the Vietnam War ended, Bruce Springsteen releases Born to Run, Jaws hits the theatres, Saturday Night Live begins, and Microsoft becomes a registered trademark. In New York City, the first women’s bank opens, the equal pay act takes effect in the UK, and in Philadelphia, the first Take Back the Night march is held. In poetry, it’s a year of Seamus Heaney, Adrienne Rich, Marilyn Hacker, James Reaney, Earle Birney, Don Domanski, Raymound Souster, and Dorothy Livesay. It’s also the year Don McKay and Stan Dragland shepherd Canada’s only solely-poetry press, Brick Books, into being.
It’s a testament to Don and Stan’s dedication and vision and to the relentless effort of Kitty Lewis, that the press continues 46 years later. Much of this success rests in the firmly poet-centered and collaborative practices the editorial board developed—practices you might say tend toward the feminist in their ethos. While the press changed hands and leadership in 2020, we still believe in lavishing attention upon unquantifiable things and in making way for perspectives that have been marginalized. As a result, we are proud to say that since 1989, 59% of our titles have been authored by poets who identify as women, and we are committed to continuing to support gender liberatory voices and practices in meaningful ways both on our list and behind the scenes.
Below is a list of titles we’d recommend to include in your “books to read by women” list.
First published in 1996, A Really Good Brown Girl is a fierce, honest and courageous account of what it takes to grow into one’s self and one’s Metis heritage in the face of myriad institutional and cultural obstacles. It is an indispensable contribution to Canadian literature.
There are no pronouns in Cree for gender; awâsis (which means illuminated child) reveals herself through shapeshifting, adopting different genders, exploring the English language with merriment, and sharing his journey of mishaps with humor, mystery, and spirituality. Opening with a joyful and intimate Foreword from Elder Maria Campbell, awâsis – kinky and dishevelled is a force of Indigenous resurgence, resistance, and soul-healing laughter.
First, by Arleen Paré Forthcoming, available May 1, 2021
The poems in First, Arleen Paré’s seventh collection, search for a long-lost first friend. They conjure the subtle layers of meaning in that early friendship to riff on to a search for how we might possibly understand the primal First: the beginnings of the cosmos that contains our own particular lives, beginnings and longings.
Heaven’s Thieves is a collection engaged with the big questions—What are bodies for? What does it mean to be alive? What is beauty and why does it have such power over us? What is the point of art?—and the urgent ones—how to live in a shattered ecology, what to do about grief, illness, betrayal. Sinclair turns her attention to these questions with fearless curiosity, economy, and an originality born of her willingness to pursue her own line of inquiry to its limit. These poems get close and cut deep, mixing subject and object, surface and soul: “Red mud glistens / like cut fruit—or like the knife / that did the cutting, laid down.”
Hooked is a stunning collection of seven poems about seven famous or infamous women: Myra Hindley, Unity Mitford, Zelda Fitzgerald, Dora Carrington, Carson McCullers, Jane Bowles, and Elizabeth Smart. Each of these women was hooked on, and her life contorted by, an addiction or obsession. Here we have seven variations on the insoluble conundrum of sexuality – each in a remarkably distinct, authentic voice.
What does it mean to be the big heart? Or to hope to be the big heart? Or to fail to be that big heart? How far can a heart stretch? How does being a parent stretch it further? How does a heart manage under the pressure of children, of self, of hospital technician, of partner, of death? In this collection, big heartedness is both demand and desire. It emerges from family life—the kid who says to your face that she prefers her other parent; the father monkeying around in the art gallery; the mother who “gets on with it” in silence; the husband, distant and intimate under the marriage yoke. There is also in this collection the stirring of wilder desires than family is supposed to nurture, feelings more fiercely self-assertive than a parent—a mother particularly—is supposed to admit. This collection asks how to rise to the occasions that family presents and also how to let oneself spill over the bounds of familial roles.
In 2017, Leah Horlick travelled to Romania to revisit the region her Jewish ancestors fled. What she unearthed there is an elaborate web connecting conscious worlds to subconscious ones, fascism to neofascisms, Europe to the Americas to the Middle East, typhus to HIV/AIDS, genocide in Romania to land grabs in Palestine, women’s lives in farming villages to queer lives in the city, language to its trap doors, and love to its hidden, ancestral obligations.
Museum of Kindness, Montreal poet Susan Elmslie’s searching second collection of poetry, is a book that bravely examines “genres” familiar and hard to fathom: the school shooting, PTSD, raising a child who has a disability. In poems grounded in the domestic and in workaday life, poems burnished by silence and the weight of the unspoken, poems by turns ironic and sincere, Elmslie asks “What, exactly, is / unthinkable?”
Candid, urgent, celebratory, and wise, this is a book for all of us; in it, we encounter a sober and unflinching gaze that meets us where we really live and does not look away.
Sue Goyette’s outskirts is a tour de force. Its originality lies in Goyette’s refusal of despair, her conviction that the connections among people, their conversation, curiosity, empathy and awe, can help us see a way forward. Her aim is to find energy in human love, a way to walk the darkness rather than hide from it. This book will name you, and frighten you; make you laugh, and arm you for what is to come.
Reunion is a parable, an origin story, a cautionary tale. It is also a time machine in which poems commune with ghosts in an attempt both to reckon with and subvert their legacy. It is a tale of the impossible quest for the original, unhurt self. A girlhood is re-inhabited and oddly transformed as the adult becomes ally of her younger self.
Karen Solie takes risks with perception and language, risks that pay off in such startling ways that it’s hard to believe this is a first book. Short Haul Engine is one great twist of fate and fury after another. The writing is clear, striking and open to all sorts of possibilities. Even at their most playful, these poems dive much deeper than initially expected. There’s a remarkably dark sense of humour at work here, but tempered with a haunting vulnerability that makes even the sharpest lines tremble.
Songs for Relinquishing the Earth contains many poems of praise and grief for the imperilled earth drawing frequently on Jan Zwicky’s experience as a musician and philosopher and on the landscapes of the prairies and rural Ontario.
Maureen Hynes, in her fifth book of poetry, speaks tenderly yet vehemently about the threatened worlds that concern her. From Toronto, where she lives and walks the city’s afflicted watershed, she turns her attention to the near and far, shifting it from the First Nations’ stolen lands to Syria and the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean; from the deaths of family and friends to the newborns into whose care our endangered planet will pass; and from love’s transient regrets to the sustaining love two women share. Hynes’ is a gaze that grieves quietly, delights humbly, and, in the search for solace, never rests. Each poem in Sotto Voceis a recitative of healing. Hear the music in every word and, despite the damaged environments Hynes gives voice to, be restored.
A collection of poems partially based on the Reena Virk murder case. Virk was an Asian adolescent whose drowned body was found in the Gorge Waterway in a Victoria, BC suburb, in 1997. Some of the poems use found material from court transcripts. The murder made international headlines due to the viciousness employed by Virk’s assailants: seven girls and one boy between the ages of 13 and 16, five of whom were white. The poems examine in part the poet’s remembrances of girlhood, the unease of adolescence, and the circumstances that enable some to pass through adolescence unhurt.
In Skov-Nielsen’s thrumming debut, The Knowing Animals, our consciousness is interconnected with the surrounding trees, bugs, rivers, atmospheres, and cosmos. Here, flowers escape Victorian domestication and ally with girls’ green powers of attraction. Here, the social politeness of motherly domesticity and the raw dangers of adolescent sexual awakening are shot through with blood pulsing under the skin, with oxygen exchanged in gasps of breath. Here, everything tender and petalling is also raw and mothervisceral.
Brenda Leifso’s Wild Madder is about way-finding—through those moments in which you no longer recognize where you are. It’s about not knowing—who you are anymore, how to be in the world, how to love. It’s about what’s unspoken and about what speaks—conversation with the wild and animate world. It’s about marriage, family, motherhood—the drudgery in them and the quiet beauty.
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Thanks so much to Brick Books for sharing the history and evolution of the press with us, and for the stellar book recommendations!
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