22 Canadian poetry books to read to celebrate National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month! Celebrate by reading some great Canadian poetry.

April is National Poetry Month! Celebrate by reading some great Canadian poetry.

For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe by Gary Barwin

For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe is a poetry collection by Gary Barwin. (Buckrider Books, George Qua Enoo)

For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe brings together new and old work from acclaimed poet Gary Barwin. An inventive writer, Barwin showcases his range, playfulness and originality from the course of his 35-year career in this new book.

Barwin is the author of several poetry collections and one novel. His novel, Yiddish for Pirateswon the 2017 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour.

The poet Lorna Crozier on The House the Spirit Builds, a collection of poems in response to photos by Diane Laundy and Peter Coffman, taken in the Frontenac Arch Biosphere in Southwestern Ontario.

NDN Coping Mechanisms by Billy-Ray Belcourt

NDN Coping Mechanisms is a poetry collection by Billy-Ray Belcourt. (House of Anansi Press)

In NDN Coping MechanismsBilly-Ray Belcourt uses poetry, prose and textual art to explore how Indigenous and queer communities and identities are left out of mainstream media. The work has two parts — the first explores everyday life and the second explores influential texts such as Treaty 8.

Belcourt is a writer and academic from the Driftpile Cree Nation. He won the Griffin Poetry Prize for his first poetry collection, This Wound is a WorldCBC Books named Belcourt a writer to watch in 2018.

Amber Dawn talks to Shelagh Rogers about her latest book Sodom Road Exit.

The Gospel of Breaking by Jillian Christmas

The Gospel of Breaking is a book of poetry by Jillian Christmas. (@Haiklue/, Arsenal Pulp Press)

The Gospel of Breaking draws on Jillian Christmas's politics, family history and queer lineage, telling stories of love lost, friendship and community. 

Christmas is an educator, activist and community organizer who focuses on increasing anti-oppression initiatives in spoken word. She is the former Artistic Director of Vancouver's Verses Festival of Words.

The House the Spirit Builds by Lorna Crozier, photography by Peter Coffman & Diane Laundy

The House the Spirit Builds is a poetry collection by Lorna Crozier. (D&M Publishers, Angie Abdou)

The House the Spirit Builds is a collection of poetry inspired by nature from acclaimed poet Lorna Crozier. Crozier was inspired by the Frontenac Arch biosphere reserve in Southeastern Ontario, one of 18 biosphere reserves in Canada. Crozier's poems in this gift-book style collection are accompanied by photos by Peter Coffman and Diane Laundy.

Crozier is a Governor General's Literary Award-winning poet who has written more than 15 books.

Joe Fiorito on his poetry collection "City Poems," which offers "short, sharp" portraits of life on the margins.

My Art Is Killing Me by Amber Dawn

My Art is Killing Me is a book of poetry by Amber Dawn. (Arsenal Pulp Press)

In her second poetry collection, My Art Is Killing MeAmber Dawn contemplates the ways in which artists can suffer at the hands of their work. The poems offer insight into her own success as a sex-worker-turned-writer and explore what it means when one's trauma is directly related to their art. 

Amber Dawn is a Vancouver-based writer and editor. She won the Writers' Trust of Canada's Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ Emerging Writers in 2012. Her debut novel, Sub Rosa, won a Lambda Literary Award and  2013 memoir How Poetry Saved My Life won the Vancouver Book Award. She is also the author of the novel Sodom Road Exit and the poetry collection Where the Words End and My Body Begins.

David Leonard on Teva Harrison's posthumous poetry collection, Not One of These Poems Is About You.

All I Have Learned Is Where I Have Been by Joe Fiorito

All I Have Learned Is Where I Have been is a book by Joe Fiorito. (Vehicule Press, Richard Lautens)

All I Have Learned Is Where I Have Been draws on Joe Fiorito's nearly two decades of experience as a newspaper columnist covering daily life in Toronto. Examining addiction, incarceration, homelessness and more, this collection is filled with harsh realities and exacting details. 

Fiorito is the author of eight books. He has won the Brassani Prize for Short Fiction in 2000 and the City of Toronto Book Award in 2003. City Poems, his first book of poetry, was published in 2018. 

Doyali Islam talks to Shelagh Rogers about her book of poetry, Heft.

How She Read by Chantal Gibson

Chantal Gibson is the author of How She Read. (Caitlin Press, Chantal Gibson)

Chantal Gibson's How She Read is a collection of genre-blurring poems about the representation of black women in Canada. The Vancouver-based Gibson has East Coast roots and she brings a holistic, decolonized approach to challenging imperialist ideas by way of a close look at Canadian literature, history, art, media and pop culture.

How She Read is a finalist for the 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize.

Gibson is an artist, poet and educator who currently teaches at Simon Fraser University. CBC Books named Gibson a black Canadian writer to watch in 2019How She Read is her first poetry collection.

Thomas King, the award-winning writer of fiction and non-fiction, turns his hand to poetry in his latest book, 77 Fragments of a Familiar Ruin,

Not One of These Poems Is About You by Teva Harrison

Not One of These Poems Is About You is an illustrated poetry collection by Teva Harrison. (House of Anansi Press, David Leonard)

In Not One of These Poems Is About You, Teva Harrison ponders what it means to live with metastatic breast cancer. From preparing to lose her husband to how the disease has influenced her identity, Harrison's poems explore life, love and death with striking honesty.

Harrison was an award-winning cartoonist known for her poignant comics about living with an incurable illness. Her 2016 graphic novel In-Between Days won the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for Non-Fiction and was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction. She died on April 27, 2019 at the age of 42.

Vancouver writer Nancy Lee on her debut poetry collection What Hurts Going Down.

Heft by Doyali Islam

Heft is the latest poetry collection by Toronto poet Doyali Islam. (CBC, McClelland & Stewart)

Heft is a conceptual look at rupture and resilience in today's world. The poems look at the nature of illness, pain and sexuality. Heft casts its lens on normal female sexual experience and the notion of home in light of chronic pain and suspected autoimmune illness on a personal level.

Heft is a finalist for the 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize.

Islam is the editor of Arc Poetry Magazine and the author of two poetry collections. Her other poetry collection is Yusuf and the Lotus Flower. CBC Books named Islam a writer to watch in 2019.

Shelagh Rogers talks to poet and TNC columnist Randy Lundy about books about nature.

Magnetic Equator by Kaie Kellough

Kaie Kellough is a Montreal writer, performer and 'general word-sound systemizer.' (Kaie Kellough, McClelland & Stewart)

Kaie Kellough plays with geography and self-determination in Magnetic Equator, his third poetry collection. Drifting between South and North America, Kellough digs into ancestral belonging, exploring the Canadian Prairies, Georgetown, Guyana, the Amazon rainforest and the Atlantic Ocean. It looks at the nature of language and dialect in the works of Caribbean and Canadian writers, seeking origin, identity and understanding.

Magnetic Equator is a finalist for the 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize.

Kellough is a Montreal-based artist and poet. He is also the author of the novel Accordéon, which was a finalist for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award.

The groundbreaking Indigenous writer on why Anna Karenina is her favourite character in fiction, her idea of perfect happiness and more.

77 Fragments of a Familiar Ruin by Thomas King

77 Fragments of a Familiar Ruin is a poetry collection by Thomas King. (HarperCollins Canada, CBC/Sinisa Jolic)

In 2020, celebrated Indigenous writer Thomas King will turn 77 years old. His first poetry collection, 77 Fragments of a Familiar Ruincollects 77 poems that lament what we have lost, lecture us for what we have allowed and looks at what we might still be able to save.

King's books include Truth & Bright WaterThe Inconvenient Indian and The Back of the Turtle. He also writes the DreadfulWater mystery series.

This new age of social distancing and isolation is good for one thing: Reading. And reading is a good way to form or enhance something so many of us crave when isolated: Connection and community. Online book clubs have sprouted up as people contemplate how to spend their days apart from friends and family and their usual distractions. We asked some lovers of literature — Toronto poet laureate A. F. Moritz, literature professor Rohan Maitzen, graduate student Ariel Leutheusser, novelist Sharon Bala and award-winning non-fiction writer Robert Macfarlane — what they're reading during our springtime of isolation and unease.

Sonnet's Shakespeare by Sonnet L'Abbé

Sonnet's Shakespeare is a poetry collection by Sonnet L'Abbé. (Paul Marck, McClelland & Stewart)

In Sonnet's ShakespeareSonnet L'Abbé takes the work of William Shakespeare and inserts herself ⁠— a mixed race South Asian and black Canadian poet. The end result is 154 sonnets that L'Abbé has dismantled letter by letter and rearranged to analyze Shakespeare's influential voice — and how we can make space for others.

L'Abbé is based in British Columbia. She won the bpNichol Chapbook Award in 2017 for Anima Canadensis.

Alessandra Naccarato reads her submission to the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize.

Mad Long Emotion by Ben Ladouceur

Ben Ladouceur is an Ottawa-raised author and poet. (Coach House Books)

The poems in Mad Long Emotion look at the nature of love and loving for humans, flora and fauna alike. Mad Long Emotion creatively gazes at the interplay between species and the host of universal connections within the natural world. 

Ladouceur's previous poetry collection, Otter, won the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award for best debut collection. In 2018, he won the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ emerging writersCBC Books named Ladouceur a writer to watch in 2019.

What Hurts Going Down by Nancy Lee

What Hurts Going Down is a poetry collection by Nancy Lee. (McClelland & Stewart, Nancy Lee)

In this collection, Nancy Lee confronts how power dynamics and socially ingrained violence continues to inform what it means to be female. What Hurts Going Down is an exploration of girlhood in the pre and post #MeToo eras.

Lee's first book, Dead Girls, won the 2003 VanCity Book Prize for best book pertaining to women's issues. She is also the author of the novel The Age.

The Dyzgraphxst by Canisia Lubrin

The Dyzgraphxst is a poetry book by Canisia Lubrin. (Anna Keenan, McClelland & Stewart)

The Dyzgraphxst is set against the backdrop of contemporary capitalist fascism, nationalism and the climate disaster, where Jejune, the central figure, grapples with understanding their existence and identity.

Canisia Lubrin is a writer, editor and teacher. Her debut poetry collection Voodoo Hypothesis was longlisted for the Gerald Lambert Award, the Pat Lowther Award and was a finalist for the Raymond Souster Award.

Field Notes for the Self by Randy Lundy

Field Notes for the Self is a book of poetry by Randy Lundy. (University of Regina Press)

Field Notes for the Self is a series that takes inspiration from the poetic structuring of Patrick Lane, John Thompson and Charles Wright, but their closest cousins may be Arvo Pärt'sThis collection deals with the idea of liberation from personal and inherited trauma and memories of violence inflicted on Lundy's Indigenous ancestors which continue to haunt him. Similar to Randy Lundy's past works, this collection is rooted in observations of the natural world. 

Lundy is a Saskatchewan-based short story writer and award-winning poet. He has published three previous books, Under the Night SunGift of the Hawk and Blackbird Song, which won the Saskatchewan Arts Board Poetry Award in 2019.

Hope Matters by Lee Maracle, Columpa Bobb & Tania Carter

Hope Matters is a poetry collection by Lee Maracle, Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter. (Book cover by Book*Hug, all author photos by Columpa Bobb)

Hope Mattersa collection of poetry from award-winning author Lee Maracle and her daughters Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter, looks at the journey of Indigenous people from colonial beginnings to reconciliation. The collaborative effort documents the personal mother-daughter connection and also the shared song of hope and reconciliation from all Indigenous communities and perspectives.

Maracle is one of Canada's most acclaimed writers. Her books include Bobbi Lee: Indian Rebel, I Am WomanMy Conversations with Canadians and Ravensong. Bobb is a photographer, actor, playwright and poet. Carter is an actor, playwright and poet.

As Far As You Know by A. F. Moritz

As Far As You Know is a poetry collection by A. F. Moritz. (A. F. Moritz, House of Anansi Press)

As Far As You Know is divided into six sections, each dealing with a different concept, from terrorism to friendship. This collection dives deep into the poet's mind revealing his ongoing obsessions with beauty, impermanence, social conscience, responsibility and love.

A. F. Moritz is the author of 20 poetry collections. He has won the Griffin Poetry Prize, the Bess Hokin Prize and an award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is currently the sixth poet laureate of the City of Toronto. 

Re-Origin of Species by Alessandra Naccarato

Re-Origin of Species is a poetry collection by Alessandra Naccarato. (Book*Hug Press, Jacklyn Atlas)

In Re-Origin of SpeciesAlessandra Naccarato explores her own family history: one that moves from southern Italy to Northern Ontario and includes poverty and addiction. Through it, she weaves an exploration of the natural world and our relationship to it.

Naccarato won the 2017 CBC Poetry PrizeRe-Origin of Species is her first book. It features Postcards for My Sister, her CBC Poetry Prize-winning poem.

Washes, Prays by Noor Naga

Washes, Prays is a book by Noor Naga. (McClelland & Stewart)

Washes, Prays follows Coocoo, a young immigrant woman living in Toronto who begins to question her faith after falling in love with Muhammad, a married father of two. Coocoo wonders how she can reconcile her faith with her actions and whether her relationship with Muhammad can really last. 

Noor Naga is a Canadian-Egyptian writer. She won the 2017 Bronwen Wallace Award for her poem The Mistress and the Ping. She also won the Disquiet Fiction Prize in 2019. Her debut novel American Girl and Boy from Shobrakheit is forthcoming fall 2021.

Burning Province by Michael Prior

Burning Province is Michael Prior's second poetry collection. (Rocio Anica, McClelland & Stewart)

Burning Province, Michael Prior's second collection, is set amid the wildfires that moved through British Columbia from 2015 to 2017. The poems deal with generational trauma, grief, love and inheritance, while moving between physical and psychological landscapes.

Prior is writer, poet and teacher. His poems have appeared in many publications across North America and the U.K., including The Next Wave: An Anthology of 21st Century Canadian Poetry. Prior's poetry explores his Japanese-Canadian identity and the impacts of the Japanese internment upon his family legacy. 

These are not the potatoes of my youth by Matthew Walsh

Matt Walsh is a poet from Nova Scotia. (Goose Lane Editions)

These are not the potatoes of my youth is a look at growing up on the East Coast and heading west on a nomadic journey. Speckled with Maritime vernacular, Walsh's poems delve into the nature of queer identity, family structure and self-determination using elements of humour, surprise and frankness. 

These are not the potatoes of my youth is Walsh's first bookCBC Books named Walsh a writer to watch in 2019.

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