Books·Books of the Year

The best Canadian poetry of 2022

Here are the CBC Books picks for the top Canadian poetry of the year!

Here are the CBC Books picks for the top Canadian poetry of the year!

Nomenclature by Dionne Brand

Book cover or black ink circle on whtie background. Black woman with short grey hair.
Nomenclature is a book by Dionne Brand. (McClelland & Stewart, Jason Chow)

Nomenclature by Dionne Brand collects eight volumes of the celebrated poet and author's work that were originally published between 1982 and 2010. With a critical introduction by the literary scholar and theorist Christina Sharpe, the book features a new long poem, the titular Nomenclature for the Time Being, which is a thoughtful and wide-ranging reflection on location, consciousness, time and the current state of the world.

Brand is an award-winning poet and novelist from Toronto. She won the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry and the Trillium Book Award for her 1997 collection Land to Light On. Her collection thirsty won the 2003 Pat Lowther Award. In 2009, she served as the poet laureate of Toronto. Her novel What We All Long For won the City of Toronto Book Award in 2006. She won the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize for Ossuaries and in 2017, she was named to the Order of Canada

LISTEN | Dionne Brand in conversation with Margaret Drabble and Andrew O'Hagan:

2020 marks the 30th anniversary of Writers & Company. Since we can't celebrate in person, Eleanor revisits the 20th anniversary special with four writers in conversation in Toronto in 2010.

Canticles III (MMXXII) by George Elliott Clarke

At left, a photo of writer George Elliott Clarke standing in a library. He is wearing glasses and a beige knit sweater and smiling. On the right is the cover of his poetry book Canticles III, featuring white and green text over a purple background.
Canticles III is the continuation of an epic work of poetry by poet and professor George Elliott Clarke. (, Guernica Editions)

In 2008, George Elliott Clarke began to write Canticles, an epic poem addressing the Transatlantic slave trade and colonial conquest. In Canticles III (MMXXII), Clarke looks at the history of the African Baptist Association of Nova Scotia, concluding his epic in his own inimitable style.

Born and raised in Nova Scotia and now based in Toronto, poet and professor George Elliott Clarke is acclaimed for his narrative lyric suites (Whylah Falls and Execution Poems), his lyric "colouring books" (Blue, Black, Red and Gold), his selected poems (Blues and Bliss), his opera libretti and plays (Beatrice Chancy and Trudeau: Long March, Shining Path). He is an Officer of the Order of Canada and was the poet laureate of Toronto from 2012-2015, among many other honours.

Passengers by Michael Crummey

Passengers is a book by Michael Crummey. (House of Anansi, Holly Hogan)

Passengers is the sixth collection of poetry by Newfoundland writer and poet Michael Crummey. The work reimagines the life of Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer who has embarked on a circumnavigation journey of Newfoundland. Along the way, the poems explore geography, folklore and the human spirit.

Crummey is a poet and novelist from Newfoundland and Labrador. He is the author of several acclaimed novels, including SweetlandGalore and The Innocents.

LISTEN | Michael Crummey discusses Passengers:

Lot by Sarah de Leeuw 

A book cover featuring a green topographical map beside a white woman in red glasses smiling.
lot is a poetry collection by Sarah de Leeuw. (Caitlin Press)

Sarah de Leeuw reflects on her early girlhood and the racial complexities of colonial violence in the poetry collection Lot. Written in a time where the government has voiced support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples while continuing to arrest Indigenous people on unceded lands, de Leeuw draws a line between past and present violence. Lot uses lyric traditions and interrogates the role of language in centering stories of white supremacy on the islands of Haida Gwaii in British Columbia.

De Leeuw is a poet and writer who melds social criticism with literary nonfiction. Her book Where It Hurts, a collection of personal essays, was a finalist for the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction. De Leeuw won the 2008 CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize and came in second in 2009.

LISTEN | Sarah de Leeuw discusses Lot:

Sarah de Leeuw talks to Shelagh Rogers about her book of poetry, Lot.

The Day-Breakers by Michael Fraser 

The Day-Breakers is a book by Michael Fraser. (Biblioasis)

The Day-Breakers is an homage to the sacrifice of the Black Canadian soldiers who fought for the Union during the American Civil War. These poems capture their voices and the era in which they lived, providing a new perspective on Black history.

Michael Fraser is an award-winning poet and writer. He has been published in several anthologies and his books include To Greet Yourself Arriving and The Serenity of StoneFraser won the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize

LISTEN | Michael Fraser reflects on winning the CBC Poetry Prize:

Mother Muse by Lorna Goodison

Mother Muse is a book by Lorna Goodison. (Véhicule Press, Hugh Wright)

In her first poetry collection in over nine years, Lorna Goodison highlights two "mothers" in Jamaican music in Mother Muse. Sister Mary Ignatius, who nurtured many of Jamaica's most gifted musicians, and dancer Anita "Margarita" Mahfood are the figures at the centre of this collection.

Lorna Goodison is one of Canada's most renowned writers. She was Jamaica's poet laureate from 2017 to 2020. Over the past 40 years, Goodison has written 14 books of poetry, including Collected Poems, and an award-winning memoir From Harvey River, which won the 2008 B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction and was a finalist for both the Trillium Book Award and the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction. She was awarded the 2019 Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry for her body of work.

LISTEN | Lorna Goodison discusses Mother Muse:

Lorna Goodison on her book of poetry, Mother Muse.

The Affirmations by Luke Hathaway

The Affirmations is a poetry collection by Luke Hathaway. (Biblioasis/James Maclean)

Luke Hathaway explores faith, love and gender transition and identity in the poetry collection The Affirmations. Hathaway shares his own journey of rediscovery of faith and of coming into his gender identity. The Affirmations is about a journey of saying yes and how doing so an change us.

Luke Hathaway is a poet who currently teaches English and creative writing at Saint Mary's University. He is also the author of Years, Months, and Days.

Shifting Baseline Syndrome by Aaron Kreuter

A man witt blue eyes and short brown hair and a beard. A white book cover featuring an old TV on it, which is small and set back so the book cover is mostly white space.
Shifting Baseline Syndrome is a poetry collection by Aaron Kreuter. (University of Regina Press, Submitted by Aaron Kreuter)

In his sophomore poetry collection, Shifting Baseline Syndrome, Aaron Kreuter asks both philosophical and satirical questions alike, such as "will the Anthropocene have a laugh track?" or "What is it like to have an acid trip in a portapotty?" Morphing from absurd to sentimental and back again, Kreuter's book demonstrates a human need for answers and for an ending worth watching. 

Kreuter is also the Toronto author of the short story collection You and Me, Belonging and the poetry collection Arguments for Lawn ChairsYou and Me, Belonging won The Miramichi Reader's 2019 "The Very Best Of!" award for short fiction, and was shortlisted for a Vine Award for Jewish Literature in the fiction category.

Standing in a River of Time by Jónína Kirton

Standing in a River of Time is a book by Jónína Kirton. (Talonbooks)

Standing in a River of Time combines poetry and memoir to expose the intergenerational effects of colonization. Jónína Kirton reflects on painful memories, her journey of spiritual healing and the guiding power of her ancestors. 

Jónína Kirton is a Métis author and poet from Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. Her 2018 poetry collection, An Honest Woman, was a finalist for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Kirton currently lives in the unceded territory of the Musqueam, Sḵwxwú7mesh, and Tsleil-Waututh Peoples, where she teaches at The Writer's Studio at Simon Fraser University.

LISTEN | Jónína Kirton talks to Shelagh Rogers about Standing in a River of Time:

Jonina Kirton talks to Shelagh Rogers about her book, Standing in a River of Time.

Horrible Dance by Avery Lake 

Horrible Dance is a book by Avery Lake. (Brick Books)

Horrible Dance is about gender-based violence that dismantles the received definitions of both gender and violence. These poems navigate personal and political terrain in search of love and show how such a search can be catastrophically derailed. Horrible Dance explores the complexity of harm and points the reader towards compassion, tenderness and solidarity. Horrible Dance was a finalist for the 2022 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry.

Avery Lake is a writer living in Montreal. 

The Quiet in Me by Patrick Lane 

The Quiet in Me is a book by Patrick Lane. (Harbour Publishing, Chris Hancock Donaldson)

The Quiet in Me is iconic Canadian poet Patrick Lane's final collection. He contemplates the quiet of living in a body amongst so many other bodies. From the trout in the lake to geese arriving with the wind and a raccoon fishing in a river, Lane reveals a web of life filled with beauty and pain. 

Lane was an award-winning poet and novelist. He won many awards including the Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry, the Canadian Authors Association Award and three National Magazine Awards. In 2014, he was made an officer of the Order of Canada. Lane died at the age of 79 in March 2019. Lane won third place in the poetry category of the CBC Literary Awards in 1981.

LISTEN | Lorna Crozier talks to Shelagh Rogers about her late partner, Patrick Lane:

Lorna Crozier talks to Shelagh Rogers about Patrick Lane's posthumous collection of poetry, The Quiet in Me.

Cactus Gardens by Evelyn Lau

Cactus Gardens is a poetry collection by Evelyn Lau. (Anvil Press)

Cactus Gardens is a poetry collection in two parts. The first follows a single narrator as they deal with friendships and relationships that are complicated, meaningful and messy. The second part explores poet Evelyn Lau's relationship with an older writer and the fallout and scrutiny that followed when Lau wrote a public essay about their relationship. It also examines Lau's own relationship to poetry and how that experience shaped how she engages with her own art.

Evelyn Lau is the Vancouver-based author of several poetry collections. Her memoir Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid, which recounts her time living on the streets of Vancouver, was published when she was 18 years old.

Shadow Blight by 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)

Drawing on ancient mythologyShadow Blight explores the grief and loneliness of pregnancy loss. Interweaving contemporary experience with mythological stories, Annick MacAskill gives new language to often unspeakable pain. 

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

MacAskill lives in Halifax, where she teaches French language and literature at Saint Mary's University. 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. 

LISTEN | Annick MacAskill reacts to winning the Governor General's Literary Award for poetry:

The winner of this year's Governor General Literary Award for poetry is Annick MacAskill, a poet who teaches French language and literature at Saint Mary’s University. She tells us about her new, award winning book of poetry called Shadow Blight, which tackles the topic of pregnancy loss.

After Beowulf by Nicole Markotic

After Beowulf is a book by Nicole Markotic. (Coach House Books)

Nicole Markotic delivers a fresh and funny retelling of Beowulf in her poetry collection After Beowulf. Markotic's rendition of the classic play has fun with the original story while also nodding to the literary traditions it created and the many translations that followed.

Nicole Markotic is a poet and novelist who teaches at the University of Windsor. Her other books include the poetry collections Bent at the SpineMinotaurs & Other Alphabets and Connect the Dots and the novels Yellow Pages and Scrapbook of My Years as a Zealot.

Hail, the Invisible Watchman by Alexandra Oliver

Hail, the Invisible Watchman is a book by Alexandra Oliver. (Biblioasis, Gavrilo Basekic)

In Hail, The Invisible Watchman, Alexandra Oliver paints pictures of chilling social dilemmas. From a schoolgirl who befriends an older divorcee to an upper-middle class family grappling with addiction and abuse, unseen forces are felt amidst an eerie atmosphere. 

Alexandra Oliver is a poet, translator, editor and essayist from Vancouver. Her poetry collection, Meeting the Tormentors in Safeway, won the 2014 Pat Lowther Memorial Award. 

LISTEN | Alexander Oliver on poetry and parenthood:

Canadian poet Alexandra Oliver uses old forms to explore contemporary concerns like the consequences of technology, living in the suburbs, and leaving places behind. Her recent books include Meeting the Tormentors in Safeway, and Let the Empire Down.

Each One a Furnace by Tolu Oloruntoba

Each One a Furnace is a collection of poems by Tolu Oloruntoba. (Franctal Studio, McClelland & Stewart)

Tolu Oloruntoba explores the behaviour of finches and finds themes of migration, diaspora and restlessness in his poetry. The migrations of these diverse birds — traversing urban and rural landscapes, historical and contemporary contexts — add layers to the experience of what it means to live within, outside and between cultures.

Oloruntoba is a writer from Nigeria who now lives in B.C. His first full-length poetry collection, The Junta of Happenstancewon the 2021 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry and the 2022 Griffin Poetry Prize. He is the founder of the literary magazine Klorofyl and author of the chapbook Manubrium, which was shortlisted for the 2020 bpNichol Chapbook Award. Oloruntoba was named a "writer to watch" by CBC Books.

LISTEN | Tolu Oloruntoba on winning the Griffin Poetry Prize:

B.C. poet and health-care worker Tolu Oloruntoba has won the 2022 Griffin Poetry Prize for his debut book, The Junta of Happenstance. He joined Tom Power to reflect on the big win.

Another Way To Split Water by Alycia Pirmohamed

At left, a photo of writer Alycia Pirmohamed standing in a field of leafy green plants. She has long black hair and is wearing an orange shirt and black jacket. On the right is the cover of her poetry book Another Way to Split Water, which features a wavy blue graphic on the left side and a plain white background on the right side.
Another Way to Split Water is 2019 CBC Poetry Prize winner Alycia Pirmohamed's debut poetry collection. (Birlinn Ltd.)

2019 CBC Poetry Prize winner Alycia Pirmohamed's debut collection, Another Way To Split Water, is a lyrical exploration of how ancestral memory transforms across generations, through stories told and retold. Her poems touch on womanhood, belonging, faith, intimacy and the natural world.

Alycia Pirmohamed is a Canadian-born poet based in Scotland. She is the co-founder of the Scottish BPOC Writers Network, a co-organizer of the Ledbury Poetry Critics Program, and currently teaches creative writing at the University of Cambridge. Her poetry collection Another Way To Split Water features the poems that won the 2019 CBC Poetry Prize: Love Poem With Elk and PunctuationPrairie Storm and Tasbih

How to Hold a Pebble by Jaspreet Singh

On the left, a photo of writer Jaspreet Singh. He is wearing glasses and a black collared shirt and is looking directly into the camera. On the left is the cover of his poetry book How to Hold a Pebble, which features yellow flame-like graphics over a grey background.
How to Hold a Pebble is the second poetry collection by Calgary writer Jaspreet Singh. (Submitted by Jaspreet Singh, NeWest Press)

Jaspreet Singh's second collection of poems, How to Hold a Pebble, engages with memory, place, language and migration, exploring strategies for survival and action amid the realities of colonialization, climate change and other existential issues facing humans in the Anthropocene.

Jaspreet Singh is the author of the novels Helium, Chef and Face, the story collection Seventeen Tomatoes, the poetry collections November and How to Hold a Pebble, and the memoir My Mother, My Translator. He lives in Calgary.

Quiet Night Think by Gillian Sze

Quiet Night Think is a book by Gillian Sze. (ECW Press, Nadia Zheng)

Composed of personal essays and poems, Gillian Sze reflects on her familial and artistic origins in Quiet Night Think. This collection takes its name from a direct translation of an eighth-century Chinese poem by Li Bai, the subject of the opening essay. As Sze moves between poetry and prose, mother and writer, she meditates on ideas of emergence and transformation.

Gillian Sze is a poet from Winnipeg. She is the author of multiple poetry collections, as well as the 2021 children's book The Night is Deep and Wide. Sze lives in Montreal. 

LISTEN | Gillian Sze reflects on her career as a poet:

Scars and Stars by Jesse Thistle

Scars and Stars is a poetry collection by Jesse Thistle. (McClelland & Stewart, Marta Hewson)

Jesse Thistle, the author of the bestselling memoir From the Ashes — a Canada Reads 2020 finalist — returns with the poetry collection Scars and StarsScars and Stars charts his own history and the stories of people from his past, including the complex legacies of family, parenthood and community.

Jesse Thistle is Métis-Cree, from Prince Albert, Sask., and an assistant professor in humanities at York University in Toronto. His memoir, From the Ashes, won the Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for Nonfiction, the Indigenous Voices Award, the High Plains Book Award, and was also a finalist on Canada Reads 2020. He lives in Hamilton, Ont.

LISTEN | Bestselling nonfiction writer Jesse Thistle on writing and releasing a book of poetry:

The author of the bestselling memoir Up from the Ashes talks to Shelagh Rogers about his debut poetry collection, Scars and Stars.

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