Authors Pasha Malla and André Alexis share poetry recommendations

In an interview with Checkup guest host Susan McReynolds, Pasha Malla. author of People Park, discusses the work of Sara Peters and why he recommends her volume 1996 for the Checkup annual book list. And André Alexis, author of Fifteen Dogs, reflects on Christian Bök's new book, The Xenotext.
Canadian authors André Alexis and Pasha Malla share their poetry recommendations on Cross Country Checkup. (Ayesha Barmania/CBC)

Canadian authors Pasha Malla and André Alexis share one collection of poetry a piece that they would recommend to all Canadians -- part of the Cross Country Checkup winter book list episode. 4:30

Pasha Malla: This is a book of poetry by a friend of mine, which is maybe a bit of cheat—but whatever—the book is amazing. Its title is 1996 and Sara Peters is the author. It's one of my favourite volumes of Canadian poetry ever. I think its an outstanding first collection. I hoped I might read one of her poems, rather than describing it vaguely.

(Listen to Pasha Malla read this poem by clicking "Play" on the audio above)

There Was Nothing Left to Drink
There was nothing left to drink and so we floated fortified and aimless
Away from the party down the emptying highway
You put your hand in your pocket then mine
While we battled through Queen Anne's lace to the water
Where you unknotted the rubber dinghy we found there
We both paused to see if it would puncture
when you placed your stiletto inside our inflatable boat

Susan McReynolds: Poetry can be a hard sell, can't it?

PM: I recommended this book to a number of people who haven't read a book of poems since high school without having been told to in English class and everyone has loved it.

There are a number of amazingly talented poets in Canada. I think we have a terrific bounty of poets but there's something of a barrier with poetry — people think they might not understand it or they don't have the proper training to read it. This is a book that might be worth picking up for those people because it might instil that confidence.

The images are so crisp and beautiful. The writing is so clean. It's accessible and challenging at the same time. I think it's a wonderful book.

SM: You say you know her?

PM: She's my buddy! I hung out with her on New Year's Eve.

SM: Did you talk to her about how you think it's accessible?

PM: The word "accessible"…I cringe from it, it sounds like she's making concessions, which I don't think she's doing. We spoke earlier in the show about Vonnegut's facility with effortless presentation, and I think Sarah does something similar. I don't think her goal is to write something that appeals to the broadest number of people possible. She has such talent and her level of craft is so high that she's able to write very structurally and formally complex material without falling into the trap of being verbose.

André Alexis: I should have thought of poetry when I was choosing my recommendations. I'm a friend of Christian Bök. I think his latest book of poetry The Xenotext, is fantastic. It's particularly fantastic if you know his previous works because it diverges so far from Eunoia or Crystallography. It is surprising in its inclusion of Virgil— the pastoral in The Death of Bees—and also surprising in its inclusion of love and the way it bounces ideas as he is trying to create a microorganism that will emit poetry and live forever.

But the words on the page are old, weird, unexpected and a pleasure to say out loud. It's one of those volumes that I really, really love. I'll just throw that out there because poetry is sometimes a hard sell but I like this book very much.

Susan McReynolds', Pasha Malla's, and André Alexis' comments have been edited and condensed.


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