2016 has been a whirlwind of a year, from global events to local events–and even right here at the League office. Early in the year we welcomed a new Executive Director, rounding out our totally new team just in time for our AGM and LCP50 kickoff. We spent several weeks strolling down memory lane as we celebrated our 50th anniversary, and now we’re gearing up to rush headlong into another Poetry City, another National Poetry Month, and another awards season! We’re excited to see what 2017 brings, but we also wanted to take a second and look back at our favourite reads of 2016. What were your favourite books from this year? What are you most looking forward to in 2017? Check out what we turned to to help get us through 2016…
LESLEY FLETCHER, Executive Director
I am also looking forward to One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul, All the Beloved Ghosts by Alison MacLeod, Someone You Love Is Gone by Gurjinder Basran, and Maud by Melanie Fishbane coming out in 2017.
SARAH DE LEEUW, League Vice-President
In light of the recent momentum and important contributions to social consciousness being made by the Idle No More and Black Lives Matter movements, in 2016 I turned to works of poetry tackling issues of racilization and violence. I (re)turned to Canadian poet M. NourbeSe Philip’s unparalleled work Zong! (Wesleyan University Press, 2008) to once again feel the importance of her assertion/observation that poetry comes closest to opening spaces for telling stores that “simply can’t be told” without also recognizing that their telling is always at risk of “doing a second violence, this time to the memory of an already violent experience” (Philip 2008, 197). I have been similarly moved (beyond words) by Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric. This is a book with resonant implications for Canadians at risk of any sense that we aren’t a colonial nation. And, speaking of colonialism, I was thrilled to read, in conjunction with undergraduate medical students I teach, The Thunderbird Poems by Armand Garnet Ruffo (Harbour Publishing, 2016). It was (pun intended) transformative to all of us. As for poetry that shines in its illumination of paradoxes and tragedies within medical and healthcare systems, this year I’ve been transfixed by the magical terror and stunning humanity of Sue Goyette’s The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl (Gaspereau Press 2015). Finally, I have to say that the book of poetry I read perhaps most deeply, and with tremendous enjoyment, is a book I was asked to blurb. Leanne Dunic’s forthcoming To Love the Coming End (BookThug 2017) is, as I wrote, a “tightly mapped poetic fault lines, topographies of loss and absence spanning immense yet intimate geologies, ecologies, astrologies, and geographies.” Look for it next year, folks!
LESLEY STRUTT, Associate Members’ Representative
I spent some time with the new books by two of our members: Louise Carson’s A Clearing (Signature Editions) and Dean Steadman’s Après Satie: For Two and Four Hands (Brick Books). Carson’s collection is a graceful portrayal of the world she inhabits with affection, curiosity and courage. She is not afraid of darkness and yet the poems shimmer with hope and tenderness. Readers of Steadman’s collection will experience a surrealistic pageantry that pays homage to a great man, and that captures a period in history as tumultuous as our own.
NICOLE BREWER, Communications Coordinator
Testament by Vickie Gendreau | If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You by Adèle Barclay | Don’t Be Interesting by Jacob McArthur Mooney. I am also excited for Deep Salt Water by Marianne Apostolides, Table Manners by Catriona Wright, and Admission Requirements by Phoebe Wang coming out in 2017.
KATE MARSHALL-FLAHERTY, League’s Toronto representative
Michael Fraser’s To Greet Yourself Arriving, a compelling book of poetry by a man I admire and whose poetry I am astounded by; it’s a collection of poems which “praises fabulous folk” throughout black history. The wonderfully reflexive title comes from a line in Derek Walcott’s “Love After Love,” which in itself reflects on “desperate notes” that guide towards love. Some of Fraser’s heroes have known injustices “when dreams are shackled,” and “the charcoal-shaded are left behind,” yet the power of these poems reiterate, as the poet declares in Benedita Da Silva’s voice, “Colour is only what you think it is.” Fraser skillfully adopts a variety of powerful voices and layers their stories with intriguing references I wanted to research. He explores inspirational figures from Austin Clarke to Obama, from a coloured hockey league in the Maritimes to the Panthers; his images are stark, striking, memorable. He delves into racism in a time ‘when the old/ books are running out of breath.” In these moving poems, the human spirit triumphs, as in the final lines of the Oprah Winfrey poem, “ a/ secret has never been more unearthed.”
Penn Kemp’s Barbaric Cultural Practices, interestingly praised by George Elliott Clarke as well, is a thought-provoking book of poetry that explores absurdities in a digital world and the mutli-layered complexities of language that paradoxically unite and separate us. This is poetry in motion, as some poems need to be read aloud or almost literally turned upside down. Kemp skillfully guides us “through investigated realms/ of possibility not yet verbalized.” She plays with the mundane and ethereal, investigates “the trail we conceive as real:/ the present as gift.” Even the poet-voice can laugh at herself as she praises other word-crafters, “till tradition moves over for … new ears/ and we settle lightly onto our own cunning.” Kemp challenges assumptions and the reader’s boundaries. “Bear down hard./ The time is come.”
In a happy barter, I acquired Susan Glickman’s The Smooth Yarrow, the third book of poetry on my nightstand lately. Glickman has an uncanny sense of metaphor that is breath-taking; she speaks in a frank and trust-inspiring voice, as in a conundrum poem that asks the reader to consider a failed suicide attempt and a friend’s (our own) responsibility in it. Nature and humanity mirror each other in these striking poems, there are “potentially dangerous plants” in her garden.Yet Glickman connects the spiritual and earthy in a fragile balance, where reader “wrap(s) oneself in a salve for the spirit/ bruised by brutishness.” Her poems explore the fragility in nature and human nature, “the entrenched injustice of the world …” where ultimately “The universe is a cabinet of mysteries we/ tiptoe by, wondering.”
These three books by my bedside are the best medicine for sleep filled with vibrant images, sibilant sounds and a deep sense of gratitude for my place as a poet in this world of fabulous Canadian poets.