This time of year is wonderful for ushering out the accumulated chaos of the year in anticipation of a fresh start, but also for all the superb year-end lists of highlights: books, movies, restaurants, plays, and so on. We’re excited to have Robin Richardson on the blog today sharing some of her top picks for the best of Canadian poetry in 2016! She also looks into 2017, and shares one international favourite. Thanks for this great roundup, Robin!
Adele Barclay: If I were in a cage I’d reach out for you / Nightwood Editions
Amidst the comings and goings, there’s a sincere desire to connect to others, an essential need to reach out, to redraft the narratives that make kinship radical and near. These poems are love letters to the uncomfortable, the unfathomable, and the altered geographies that define our own misshapen understandings of the world.
Ashley-Elizabeth Best: Slow States of Collapse / ECW Press
In her debut collection, Ashley-Elizabeth Best explores the cultivation of resilience during uncertain and often trying times. It’s a book built around day-to-day conflicts — poems about love, family, grief, power, and longing. Navigating the fault lines of popular culture and traditional poetry to assert that we are all history makers, Slow States of Collapse enters the landscape of personal narrative in an attempt to reconcile life’s little universal griefs.
Vincent Colistro: The Late Victorians / Signal Editions
“I was only born into the world,” begins one of Vincent Colistro’s poems, “didn’t invade it, didn’t ransom it for a nicer one.” The Late Victorians, Colistro’s debut, is a beguilingly irreverent investigation of the life he was “born into.” Hyper-fluent, riding wave after wave of copious invention, Colistro builds his weirdness from scratch, turning simple ideas into sense-resisting parables full of deranged twists and dizzying embellishments. (“We Rick-rolled, we raised / pre-flop, we flapped our pool noodles / at each other’s caboose.”) Wily, witty and packed with brilliant sleights of hand, The Late Victorians announces an original talent.
Michael Prior: Model Disciple / Signal Editions
A mesmerizing and moving first collection, Model Disciple gives us a poetry of two minds. Confounded by Japanese-Canadian legacies too painful to fully embrace, Michael Prior’s split speakers struggle to understand themselves as they submit to their reinvention: “I am all that is wrong with the Old World, / and half of what troubles the New.” Prior emerges as a poet not of identity, but identities. Invented identities, double identities, provisional identities—his art always bearing witness to a sense of self held long enough to shed at a moment’s notice. Model Disciple ‘s Ovidean shape-shifting is driven by formal mastery and mot juste precision. It’s also one of the most commanding poetic debuts in years.
Moez Surani: ةيلمع Operación Opération Operation 行 动 Oперация / BookThug
By pulling military language away from euphemism—effectively, making it account for its doublespeaking ways— ةيلمع Operación Opération Operation 行动 Oперация documents the chasm that exists between these two sets of values, and gives voice to the many lives lost in conflicts around the world, in a volume that will speak equally to lovers of contemporary poetry, language, and linguistics, as to readers interested in politics, international relations, and public discourse.
Suzanne Buffam: A Pillow Book / House of Anansi
Not a narrative. Not an essay. Not a shopping list. Not a song. Not a diary. Not an etiquette manual. Not a confession. Not a prayer. Not a secret letter sent through the silent Palace hallways before dawn. Making a daybook of oblivion, A Pillow Book leads the reader on a darkly comic tour through the dim-lit valley of fitful sleep. The miscellaneous memoranda, minutiae, dreamscapes, and lists that comprise this book-length poem disclose a prismatic meditation on the price of privilege; the petty grievances of marriage, motherhood, art, and office politics; the indignities of age; and the putative properties of dreams, among other themes, set in the dead of winter in a Midwestern townhouse on the eve of the end of geohistory. Feather-light in its touch, quixotic in its turns, and resolutely deadpan in its delivery, A Pillow Book offers a twenty-first-century response to a thousand-year-old Japanese genre which resists, while slyly absorbing, all attempts to define it.
Jacob McArthur Mooney: Don’t be Interesting / McClelland & Stewart
Don’t Be Interesting is a collection that grapples with The Future – as public morality-keeper and private reckoner. The book explores the lines dividing the present from both the future and the past. Its channels include all the breadth of mass experience, from film and sport to science fiction novels, war, history, technology, and biography. Part travelogue, the book dredges up mid-century optimisms in Europe and America. In tones that range from wryly empathetic to downright caustic, Don’t Be Interesting calls out to idols and villains, from athletes to folk heroes to musicians to war criminals, and asks us what becomes of the future once the past and present have merged into one?
International pick: Mary Reufle’s My Private Property / Wave Books
My Private Property, comprised of short prose pieces, is a brilliant and charming display of her humor, deep imagination, mindfulness, and play.
ROBIN’S MOST ANTICIPATED CANADIAN COLLECTIONS OF 2017:
Shannon Bramer: Precious Energy / BookThug, fall 2017
Please note that all descriptions are from the publishers’ websites.