Governor General's Literary Awards·ORIGINAL POETRY

Cities are full of concrete and construction. Annick MacAskill's poem examines how this impacts us

Circumference is an original poem by Annick MacAskill.

Circumference is an original poem by Annick MacAskill

Circumference is a poem by Annick MacAskill, winner of the 2022 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry.
Circumference is a poem by Annick MacAskill, winner of the 2022 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

Circumference is a poem by Annick MacAskill. It is part of Healing, a special series of new, original writing featuring work by some of the English-language winners of the 2022 Governor General's Literary Awards, presented in partnership with the Canada Council for the ArtsRead more works from Healing here


I can taste the tin of the sky—the real tin thing.

Winter dawn is the color of metal,

The trees stiffen into place like burnt nerves.

All night I have dreamed of destruction, annihilations—

— Sylvia Plath, Waking in Winter

Within a block and a half, three condo developments

thundering their way to completion. Still, 

the backyard of my co-op too quiet, 

the birds who should be here fled 

to the checkered quilts of farmland, or closer 

to sea. We are wrong to think them freer 

than we are: we will move everywhere, 

until we crowd out even the species 

we call invasive, like the starling. 

I can taste the tin of the sky, the real tin thing 


of the construction rising before me, 

the punch of subterranean drilling

heavy and tight beneath my breast. This is 

not poetry—scientific articles, 

websites for schoolchildren tell me 

that those decibels expand, reaching 

all the way to the dorsal vessels of a caterpillar—

minuscule chambers that mirror our own hearts'—

the unhatched eggs of the bluebird, a tulip's velvet petals. 

Mid-spring dawn is the colour of metals 


behind the metal skeletal muscles 

of their structures. In the Atlantic, higher 

levels of noise are achieved by oil drilling, 

cruise ships, military seismic testing, 

until dolphins and whales cannot navigate, 

feed, or find a mate, their songs drowned in the depths 

beyond drowning, maps of music rendered 

archaic, feathering along the edges, till sometimes 

they wash up on our shorelines, bodies curved, 

stiffening into place like burnt nerves. 



I close my laptop, my pulse slapping 

alarm inside my wrist. I write to city councillors 

who return my words in tinny distortion, 

as if an interruption cackling static 

in the fistful of concrete blocks that lay between us. 

Out my window, the conglomerate's logo 

repeats over white sheets of insulation 

that cut off the horizon, the cherry red insignias 

blurring like waves and waves on the ocean. 

All night I dream of destruction, annihilation— 

The inspiration

Annick MacAskill: "Though I have lived squashed between construction sites for the past five years or so, it wasn't until last spring, when a neighbour in my co-op made a quip in our yard, that I started to consider the effects of noise pollution and disruption in my local area. I had never given much thought to noise pollution before, but when I researched it, I found that its effects on human and non-human animals are in fact quite real.

"I started looking at the construction site behind me (several years in the making, still far from finished) differently, as well as noticing the physical reactions in my own body to the constant noise. Since then, I've been thinking about what development in our cities looks like, who it profits, who it serves and who it harms. My poem is a working through of this."

About Annick MacAskill

The pink book cover feature huge block letters across the cover. The block letters are a fragment of the book title and author's name.
Shadow Blight is a book by Annick MacAskill. (Nolan Natasha, Gaspereau Press)

Annick MacAskill is a Halifax poet, author and educator. She was Arc Poetry Magazine's poet-in-residence for 2021-22. Her poetry collections include Murmurations and No Meeting Without Body, which was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and shortlisted for the J.M. Abraham Award. 

Her poetry collection Shadow Blight won the 2022 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry.

About the series Healing

Healing: A series about the many ways we renew, refresh & restore mind, body & soul.
Healing: A series about the many ways we renew, refresh & restore mind, body & soul. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

CBC Books asked the 2022 Governor General's Literary Award winners to contribute an original piece of writing on the theme of healing. Circumference was Annick MacAskill's contribution to the series. 

Read the rest of the series:

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