Books·Reading List

7 Canadian books to read if you love the poetry of Alden Nowlan

The late Alden Nowlan is widely lauded as one of Canada's greatest poets. Here are seven books to read if you loved the poetry by the acclaimed writer.
The late Alden Nowlan is considered to be one of Canada's greatest poets. (Icehouse Poetry)

The late Alden Nowlan is widely recognized as one of Canada's most popular 20th-century poets.

Born in Windsor, N.S., in 1933, Nowlan's knack with words — along with his conversational and anecdotal writing style — earned him much acclaim. He had a prolific career, writing 24 books and winning the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry in 1967 with Bread, Wine and Salt.  

A new collection of his workThe Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan, showcases the Canadian poet's dexterous, rhythmic yet formal verse and visually arresting style.

If you have enjoyed Nowlan's work, here are seven other books by contemporary Canadian poets that you might enjoy.

Inventory by Dionne Brand

Dionne Brand is a Canadian poet, novelist, essayist and documentarian. (Jason Chow/McClelland & Stewart)

What it's about: Inventory is a book-length poem that shows Dionne Brand at simultaneously her most incisive and her most generous-hearted. In this book — which fellow poet George Murray dubbed "one of the single most perfect books of poetry written in this century" — Brand catalogues the state of the world at the turn of the millennium, from the invasion of Iraq to Hurricane Katrina.

Read it if you like: Like much of Nowlan's work, Brand uses pointed, incisive language that is both unflinching and critical. 

How to Dance in this Rarefied Air by Rienzi Crusz

Rienzi Crusz is widely published, and respected and loved for his unabashedly romantic and finely crafted poetry. ( House Publishers Ltd.)

What it's about: How to Dance in this Rarefied Air by the late Rienzi Crusz features work tracking his journey as a poet writing in Canada since the 1970s. It provides an immigrant perspective on life in Canada, looking at expansive yet insular themes of defiance and survival.

Read it if you like: It's a self-aware and honest look at life in a postmodern world.

And I Alone Escaped To Tell You by Sylvia Hamilton

Sylvia Hamilton is an award-winning filmmaker and poet. (Gaspereau Press)

What it's about: The poems in And I Alone Escaped to Tell You delve into the history of African peoples in Nova Scotia. The collection is a moving meditation on the place of African-descended people in Canada and the threads connecting all of us to the African diaspora.

Read it if you like: A personal and historical look at the environment around us, one that questions identity and privilege. 

On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood by Richard Harrison

Richard Harrison is a writer and poet. (Keeghan Rouleau/Wolsak and Wynn Publishers Ltd.)

What it's about: Richard Harrison's On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood is a combination of memoir, lyrical essays and personal correspondence dealing with the passing of Harrison's father and the 2013 Alberta floods. The collection won the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry.

Read it if you like: Vibrant sketches of human relationships, rich with emotional and intellectual context.  

My Ariel by Sina Queyras 

Sina Queyras is a poet based in Montreal. (Coach House Books)

What it's about: With My Ariel, Montreal poet Sina Queryas takes an analytical and poetic look at Sylvia Plath's Ariel and the mythology surrounding it.

Read it if you like: This review of Plath's final great work pulsates with emotional intensity.

Totem Poles & Railroads by Janet Rogers 

Janet Rogers is the author of Totem Poles & Railroads. (UNBC/ARP Books)

What it's about: Janet Rogers' fifth collection of poetry examines the 500-year-old relationship between Indigenous nations and the corporation of Canada. She pays honour to her poetic characters — real and imagined, historical and present day — to affix poetry at the heart of our current post-residential school/present-day reconciliation reality.

Read it if you like:  Fierce, playful and sensual approaches to language that is thought-provoking and personal.

Witness, I Am by Gregory Scofield

Gregory Scofield won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 1994 for his debut collection, The Gathering: Stones for the Medicine Wheel. (Harbour Publishing)

What it's about: A collection in three parts from one of Canada's most recognized poets, Witness, I Am is equal parts contemporary, epic and exploratory in its look at the Indigenous experience in Canada from an intimate view. 

Read it if you like: Rhythmic language and verse that function as meditations on past, present and future possibilities. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.