The best Canadian poetry of 2019
Here are CBC Books's 20 favourite poetry collections of the year.
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.
In NDN Coping Mechanisms, Billy-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 World. CBC Books named Belcourt a writer to watch in 2018.
Iconic Canadian poet George Elliott Clarke tackles the biography of another Canadian icon: his great-aunt Portia White. White was born in Nova Scotia, a descendent of the Black Loyalists and American slaves, and went on to become an acclaimed opera singer, performing for Queen Elizabeth II in 1964. In Portia White, Clarke tells the story of her life in one long, epic poem.
Dunk Tank weighs in on knowledge, experience and the fears associated with being an adult. The collection is a creative imagining of the body as an strange and unknowable landscape, breaking down the anatomical components in a blur of metaphor, imagery and dark humour to make connections between sex, love, friendship and belonging.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 2020, celebrated Indigenous writer Thomas King will turn 77 years old. His first poetry collection, 77 Fragments of a Familiar Ruin, collects 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.
In Sonnet's Shakespeare, Sonnet 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.
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 writers. CBC Books named Ladouceur a writer to watch in 2019.
Hope Matters, a 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 Woman, My Conversations with Canadians and Ravensong. Bobb is a photographer, actor, playwright and poet. Carter is an actor, playwright and poet.
Drolleries is a manifesto for self-realization by way of investigating the nature of romantic relationships, the allure of art and the structures of power — from fallible and transformative angles.
Cassidy McFadzean is a past finalist for the CBC Poetry Prize and The Walrus Poetry Prize. She is also the author of the collection Hacker Packer.
In Re-Origin of Species, Alessandra 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.
War / Torn looks at parameters of religion and masculinity — weighing in on the nature of identity, belonging and love. Hasan Namir examines his experience with war and violence, along with his LGTBQ identity and his relationship with tenets of Islam.
Twitch Force marks Michael Redhill's first collection of poetry in 18 years. It brings together poems grounded in the satirical and profound. The collection explores topics such as the family construct, the nature of beauty, love, loss and despair.
Armand Garnet Ruffo's Treaty # is an examination of the nature and meaning of a treaty. Ruffo documents his observations of life from an Indigenous perspective, looking at belief systems and the complex, evolving connections and obligations between nation-to-nation, human-to-human and human-to-nature.
Ruffo is an Ojibway filmmaker, writer and poet. His other books include Grey Owl, Norval Morrisseau and The Thunderbird Poems.
The Caiplie Caves is a portrait of sorts of an Irish missionary named Ethernan, who, in the seventh century, withdrew to a cave in Scotland to ponder whether to establish a priory on May Island or pursue a hermit's solitude. Karen Solie adopts an intersectional look at the realities of war, religious colonization and ideas of progress, power and corruption via a personal and emotional lens of faith, grief and confusion under duress. The Caiplie Caves is shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize for poetry.
Solie won the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2020 for her collection Pigeon. Her other books include Short Haul Engine, Modern and Normal and The Road In Is Not the Same Road Out.
Cluster, Souvankham Thammavongsa's fourth poetry collection, examines the nature of meaning and the ways in which it arrives, resonates and dissipates. This wide-ranging collection includes ruminations on nature, family and politics written in Thammavongsa's celebrated minimalist style.
Thammavongsa's other poetry collections include Light, which won the Trillium Book Award, and Small Arguments, which won the ReLit Award.
Arielle Twist is a Cree, two-spirit poet and educator based in the East Coast. Twist's debut poetry collection offers perspectives of human connections after death — looking at anger, grief, trauma and displacement left in its wake. Disintegrate/Dissociate depicts life for an Indigenous trans woman, one dreaming for a hopeful future and a clear path for self-discovery.
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.