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We rounded up the incredible poetry collections making up 2023’s Gerald Lampert, Pat Lowther, and Raymond Souster Award longlists, awarded by the League of Canadian Poets.
Showing 1–20 of 21 results
A is for Acholi is a sweeping collection exploring diaspora, the marginalization of the Acholi people, the dusty streets of Nairobi and the cold grey of Vancouver. Playfully upending English and scholarly notation Bitek rearranges the alphabet, hides poems in footnotes and slips stories into superscripts. With writing that is lyric, layered and deeply felt, the poems in A is for Acholi unfold maps of history, culture and identity, tracing a route to a present where the poet dreams of writing a world without empire.
CBC BOOKS BEST CANADIAN POETRY BOOKS OF 2022
LONGLISTED FOR THE RAYMOND SOUSTER AWARD
hwæt, another Beowulf translation? Not exactly…
Welcome to Denmark’s Heorot Hall, where King Hrothgar invites to his banquet table everyone but Grendel, Saxon’s cradle-made monster. Dissing this ur-outsider initiates a predictable and monstrous backlash, a Mediæval fracas that only the eponymous Beowulf can quash. Sailing across the whaleroads, he arrives to “quell and queltch and quatch the Grendel beast.”
Beowulf, that still-recognizable hero, embodies a “blank” function, a motive-driven yet motiveless megastar. He’s the young, fit, male, self-sacrificing protagonist-interloper who will fight any monster to protect his people. Or to defend strangers. Or to gain a reputation. Or because he just really wants to…
In her rendering of Beowulf, Nicole Markotić offers a rollicking cover song of a fantastical text. These pages will surprise readers as they introduce new ways to embrace, challenge, or click with Anglo-Saxon heroics. Writing original poems, Markotić de-stories the story of one man, who mostly does not play well with others, who fights monsters (and defeats their mothers, too), and who practically invents the poetic tradition of entitled bravery.
Upending the tale with her fresh and enchanting style, Markotić gives a nod to previous translations, winks at canonical critics, bares historical biases, all while gifting transmogrifying pages that will whet your whimsy!
“Nicole Markotić takes the original English-language epic and reprocesses it. That is, she rereads, rewrites, reimagines, rethinks, and retells it, all at the same time. The result is the story re-understood. The phrasing and incantation is Markotić’s own (and our era’s own), deployed with deliciously textured and diverse registers of language. Blake saw infinity in the palm of his hand. Markotić puts a millennium in yours.” —Wayde Compton, author of The Outer Harbour
“Beowulf, with its unfathomable monsters and monster-slaying hero, its bro world of mead, boasting, weapons, and booty, remains a stubbornly relevant template for much of our contemporary scene. Nicole Markotić’s After Beowulf handles all this with dazzling sprezzatura. It is a pleasure to follow the narrating, condensing, commenting voice as it sashays through a range of verbal registers from high Olsonic to comic book pratfall, snark to scholarship. After Beowulf provides an up-to-date reading of Beowulf through the eyes of a feminist poet. And it continually suggests what things might be like after Beowulf.” —Bob Perelman, author of Jack and Jill in Troy
“The collision of ancient and colloquial language creates bursts of humour as my dude Beowulf makes his way into the banquet hall and beyond. Linger here to experience the aesthetics of poetry in action: vibrant and intensely moving, we feel the wrenching pain of Grendel’s mother. Markotić’s language is thick with meaning and light with humour: a creation of the most projective of verses.” —Jacqueline Turner, author of Flourish
A formidable collection of poems that deconstructs the notion of “otherness” through folklore and myth.
An unflinching shapeshifter, Beast at Every Threshold dances between familial hauntings and cultural histories, intimate hungers and broader griefs. Memories become malleable, pop culture provides a backdrop to glittery queer love, and folklore speaks back as a radical tool of survival. With unapologetic precision, Natalie Wee unravels constructs of “otherness” and names language our most familiar weapon, illuminating the intersections of queerness, diaspora, and loss with obsessive, inexhaustible ferocity – and in resurrecting the self rendered a site of violence, makes visible the “Beast at Every Threshold.”
Beguiling and deeply imagined, Wee’s poems explore thresholds of marginality, queerness, immigration, nationhood, and reinvention of the self through myth.
LONGLISTED FOR THE PAT LOWTHER MEMORIAL AWARD
From the author of The Baudelaire Fractal, a poetry classic, with new work
In 2004, boldly original poet Lisa Robertson published a chapbook, Rousseau’s Boat, poems culled from years of notebooks that are, nevertheless, by no means autobiographical. In 2010, she expanded the work into a full-length book, R’s Boat. During the pandemic, she was drawn back into decades of journals to shape Boat. These poems bring fresh vehemence to Robertson’s ongoing examination of the changing shape of feminism, the male-dominated philosophical tradition, the daily forms of discourse, and the possibilities of language itself.
“Robertson has quietly but surely emerged as one of our most exciting and prolific philosophers—I mean poets. Interested in architecture, weather systems, fashion, autobiography, gender, the classics, and just about everything else, she manages to irradiate her subjects with calm, wit, and astonishing beauty. Robertson’s style is both on splendid display and under fierce interrogation in her latest book, R’s Boat.” —Kenyon Review
“In R’s Boat, Robertson has penned a post-conceptual, post-lyric, relentlessly self-examining performance of memory and sincerity that manages, remarkably, to be both theoretically concerned and deeply emotive.” —Harvard Review
“R’s Boat grapples with form, the constraint of language and tradition, and the challenge to avoid anything that might exist as template. The poems examine feminism, discourse, the body, and poetry itself through sumptuous, seductive language.” —American Poets
This Meditation on the impact of human and ecological trauma explores the cost of survival for three generations of women living between empires. Writing from within the disappearing tallgrass prairie, Sarah Ens follows connections between the Russian Mennonite diaspora and the disrupted migratory patterns of grassland birds. Drawing on family history, eco-poetics, and the rich tradition of the Canadian long poem, Flyway migrates along pathways of geography and the heart to grapple with complexities of home.
Steffi Tad-y’s debut collection brings forward diasporic experience as it intersects with mental illness. Family history and work lyrics occur against a tonal backdrop of the carceral. Yet Tad-y brings a tenderness to these fraught circumstances, finding beauty in detail and repetitive acts of love, in part due to the use of a multiplicity of forms that render a surplus of affect into beautiful images. Though danger properly exists in Tad-y’s world, her poetry takes its own advice in “Writer’s Archive”: “Look. Enough. Each full stop unspooling / the cardinal & bluebird privacy of things.”
In How Beautiful People Are, his third collection, Ayaz Pirani continues to write his people’s pothi: a trans-national, inter-generational poetry of post-colonial love and loss animated by the syncretizing figure of Kabir and drawn from the extraordinary diwan of ginan and granth literature. Walking alongside the tiger of Ali and an assortment of beloved infidels, Ayaz uncovers just How Beautiful People Are. After all, what will darkness do, his poems ask, when a true guru makes light?
How do we scale up our imagination of the human? How does one live one’s life in the Anthropocene?
How to Hold a Pebble–Jaspreet Singh’s second collection of poems–locates humans in the Anthropocene, while also warning against the danger of a single story. These pages present intimate engagements with memory, place, language, migration; with enchantment, uncanniness, uneven climate change and everyday decolonization; with entangled human/non-human relationships and deep anxieties about essential/non-essential economic activities. The poems explore strategies for survival and action by way of a playful return to the quotidian and its manifold interactions with the global and planetary. Of loss no scale remains no seawall… Between one’s despairs / they will brighten / Hope’s in-built traces.
MONUMENT is a conversation with Mughal Empress Mumtaz Mahal, which moves her legacy beyond the Taj Mahal.
MONUMENT upturns notions of love, monumentalisation, and empire by exploring buried facets of Mumtaz Mahal’s story. The collection layers linear time and geographical space to chart the continuing presence of historical legacies. It considers what alternate futures could have been possible. Who are we when we continue to make the same mistakes? Beyond distance, time, and boundaries, what do we still carry?
“A profound evocation of unbelonging.”–Bhanu Kapil
“Bandukwala is a lyric truth-teller.”–Farzana Doctor
“A sensitive, urgent, astonishing, masterful, and necessary debut.”–Doyali Islam
Anne Marie Todkill’s debut recalibrates the anxiety of the present. It gives doubt a hearing, finding resilience in fragility and grace in unexpected places.
The poems assembled in Orion Sweeping take nothing at face value. What are we to make of a radioactive souvenir, a shape-shifting dog, landscapes made strange by time? The speakers gathered here seek to set the record straight: a mink gives advice; a wolf disputes a rumour; a photographer zooms in on a kill; a military strategist gives lessons in peace. But the sum of the evidence is not bleak. A baby arrives as robustly as a whale; the solidarity of marriage is enacted in surprising ways; father and daughter share a gift for reprieve. Under the penetrating gaze of these poems, beauty and tenderness come quietly into view.
Sales and Market Bullets
In Shapeshifters, Délani Valin explores the cost of finding the perfect mask. Through a lens of urban Métis experience and neurodivergence, Valin takes on a series of personas as an act of empathy as resistance. Some personas are capitalist mascots like the Starbucks siren, Barbie and the Michelin Man, who confide the hopes and frustrations that lay hidden behind their relentless public enthusiasm. Others include psychiatric diagnoses like hypochondria, autism and depression, and unlikely archetypes such as a woman who becomes a land mass by ending the quest to shrink herself. In more confessional poems, the pressure to find relief from otherness often leads to magical thinking: portals, flight, telepathy and incantations all become metaphors for survival. Shapeshifters maps ways in which an individual can attempt to fit into a world that is inhospitable to them, and makes a case to shift the shape of that world.
Winner of the RBC/PEN Canada New Voices Award, 2022
Longlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, 2023
Shortlisted for the Hamilton Literary Award, Poetry, 2023
Fareh Malik’s debut collection aims to explore the intersection between mental illness and social racialization. The poet dives deep into his long history with Islamophobia, racism, and other forms of discrimination. The book focuses on perseverance and the silver lining that is ever on the horizon with the expectation that you can make it out of any trial or tribulation, if you just follow your dream to wherever it leads.
The Big Melt is a debut poetry collection rooted in nehiyaw thought and urban millennial life events. It examines what it means to repair kinship, contend with fraught history, go home and contemplate prairie ndn utopia in the era of late capitalism and climate change. Part memoir, part research project, this collection draws on Riddle’s experience working in Indigenous governance and her affection for confessional poetry in crafting feminist works that are firmly rooted in place. This book refuses a linear understanding of time in its focus on women in the author’s family, some who have passed and others who are yet to come. The Big Melt is about inheriting a Treaty relationship just as much as it is about breakups, demonstrating that governance is just as much about our interpersonal relationships as it is law and policy. How does one live one’s life in a way that honours inherited responsibilities, a deep love for humour and a commitment to always learning about the tension between a culture that deeply values collectivity and the autonomy of the individual? Perhaps we find these answers in the examination of ourselves, the lands we are from and the relationships we hold.
Longlisted for the 2023 OCM Bocas Prize • Longlisted for the 2023 Raymond Souster Poetry Prize • A CBC Best Poetry Book of 2022 • Nominated for the 2023 ReLit Award for Poetry
Saturated with locutions lifted from the late 19th century, The Day-Breakers deeply conceives of what African Canadian soldiers experienced before, during, and in the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War.
“It is not wise to waste the life / Against a stubborn will. / Yet would we die as some have done. / Beating a way for the rising sun wrote Arna Bontemps. In The Day-Breakers, poet Michael Fraser imagines the selflessness of Black soldiers who fought for the Union during the American Civil War, of whom hundreds were African-Canadian, fighting for the freedom of their brethren and the dawning of a new day. Brilliantly capturing the rhythms of their voices and the era in which they lived and fought, Fraser’s The Day-Breakers is an homage to their sacrifice and an unforgettable act of reclamation: the restoration of a language, and a powerful new perspective on Black history and experience.
Shortlisted, Nelson Ball Prize
Longlisted, Raymond Souster Award
Long-Shortlisted, ReLit Award (Poetry)
Daring in form and unflinching in its gaze, Daniel Scott Tysdal’s latest poetry collection examines madness as lived experience and artistic method. Taking inspiration from Al Jaffee’s illustrated fold-ins in MAD magazine, Tysdal explores living with mental illness through a new kind of poetry: the fold-in poem.
In this innovative collection, each poem does not end at the bottom of the page; instead, the reader is invited to complete the poem by folding the page to reveal the final line. From the effects of being “smiled into an elephantine line” at Pearson International Airport to the rites of official memory and forgetting at a baseball game in the aftermath of tragedy, Tysdal probes both his own psyche and the myriad environments that work to enfold those who are deemed mad.
Vox Humana (Latin for “human voice”) is driven by a sense of political urgency to probe the ethics of agency in a world that actively resists the participation of some voices over others.
In and through literary experiments with word and sound, utterance and song, Vox Humana considers the different ways a body can assert, recount, proclaim, thus underscoring the urgency of doing so against the de-voicing effects of racism and institutional violence.
As the title also represents an organ reed that sounds like the human voice, so DeRango-Adem shares her reclaiming of the instrument traditionally accessed by the white establishment.
These poems are born from the polyphonic phenomenon of the author’s multilingual upbringing. They are autobiographical and alchemical, singular and plural, but, above all, a celebration of the (breath) work required for transformation of society and self.