Books·Books of the Year

The best Canadian poetry of 2019

Here are CBC Books's 20 favourite poetry collections of the year.

Here are CBC Books's 20 favourite poetry collections of the year.

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.

Featured VideoCanada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke is on a mission to make his role relevant to the average Canadian. more stories from this episode

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 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.

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

Portia White by George Elliott Clarke, art by Lara Martina

Portia White is a poetry collection by George Elliott Clarke. (Nimbus Publishing, Camelia Linta)

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 WhiteClarke tells the story of her life in one long, epic poem.

Clarke was Canada's parliamentary poet laureate and was the fourth poet laureate of Toronto (2012-2015). His books include Whylah FallsGeorge and Rue and The Motorcyclist

Featured VideoRecorded at Montreal's Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival, Thomas King joins Rosanna Deerchild on stage in this extended conversation about writing, research and Indigenous humour.

Dunk Tank by Kayla Czaga

Kayla Czaga is a poet from Vancouver. (House of Anansi Press)

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. 

Czaga was longlisted for the 2018 CBC Poetry Prize for Drunk River. Dunk Tank is her second poetry collection. She's also the author of For Your Safety Please Hold On.

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.

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 2019. How She Read is her first poetry collection.

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.

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.

Featured VideoAlessandra Naccarato reads her submission to the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize.

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.

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.

77 Fragments of a Familiar Ruin by Thomas King

77 Fragments of a Familiar Ruin is a poetry collection by Thomas King. (HarperCollins Canada)

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.

Featured VideoCanadian poet Karen Solie joins host Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter.

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.

Featured VideoArielle Twist has been open about her transition and life before and after - she often writes about sex, love and relationships from her unique perspective.

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.

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.

Drolleries by Cassidy McFadzean

Cassidy McFadzean is an award-winning poet from Regina. (Sarah Bodri, Penguin Random House Canada)

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.

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.

War / Torn by Hasan Namir

Hasan Namir is an award-winning poet. (Book*hug Press, Bijan Dharas)

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.

Namir's first book, the 2015 novel God in Pink, won the Lambda Literary Award for best gay fiction. War / Torn is his first poetry collection. CBC Books named Nasir a writer to watch in 2019.

Twitch Force by Michael Redhill

Michael Redhill is an writer from Toronto. (House of Anansi Press, Amanda Withers)

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.

Redhill is a poet, playwright and novelist. Redhill garnered much acclaim for past novels Consolation and Martin Sloane and won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2017 for Bellevue Square

Treaty # by Armand Garnet Ruffo

Treaty # is a poetry collection by Armand Garnet Ruffo. (Wolsak & Wynn)

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.

Treaty # was a finalist for the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry.

Ruffo is an Ojibway filmmaker, writer and poet. His other books include Grey OwlNorval Morrisseau and The Thunderbird Poems.

The Caiplie Caves by Karen Solie

The Caiplie Caves is a poetry collection by Karen Solie. (David Seymour, House of Anansi)

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 2010 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 by Souvankham Thammavongsa

Souvankham Thammavongsa is an award-winning poet based in Toronto. (Jennifer Rowsom, McClelland & Stewart)

ClusterSouvankham 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.

Disintegrate/Dissociate by Arielle Twist

Disintegrate/Dissociate is a poetry collection by Arielle Twist. (Arsenal Pulp Press,

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. 

Twist is a Halifax-based poet and sex educator, originally from George Gordon First Nation, Saskatchewan. CBC Books named Twist a writer to watch in 2019.

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.