The sun is out, the beach is warm, the parks are full — it’s time to bust out your summer reading list! We truly believe that poetry makes an excellent beach read, so our first batch of summer recommendations are the 18 incredible books shortlisted for our awards.
100 Days by Juliane Okot Bitek (University of Alberta Press)
Float by Anne Carson (Knopf)
Presented in an arrestingly original format–individual chapbooks that can be read in any order, and that float inside a transparent case–this collection conjures a mix of voices, time periods, and structures to explore what makes people, memories, and stories “maddeningly attractive” when observed in spaces that are suggestively in-between. Exquisite, heartbreaking, disarmingly funny, Float kaleidoscopically illuminates the uncanny magic that comes with letting go of expectations and boundaries. It is Carson’s most intellectually electrifying, emotionally engaging book to date.
Disturbing the Buddha by Barry Dempster (Brick Books)
From the jurors: “Disturbing the Buddha, offers a highly polished window into the complex and rich story that mirrors the author’s inner life. The language is fresh, veering from simple facts to the magical. Through lineation and the careful use of metaphor Dempster creates poems of deceptive simplicity. He ranges over the gamut of tender feelings to asking questions about the unanswerable. This collection is one that can be savoured each time you dip into a poem, which both surprises and enchants. Disturbing The Buddha is about the human condition told through the deftly crafted words and phrases of a writer in his prime.”
silent sister: the mastectomy poems by Beth Everest (Frontenac House)
From the jurors: “There is nothing silent about the poems in this collection by Beth Everest. She allows us into her life by way of her initial breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, and surgery. Her everyday journeys speak loud and clear about fear, the agony and pain of treatment. Her poems speak of life’s uncertainties, how one carries on amid fellow cancer patient’s deaths, the complications of chemo and radiation and the effect cancer has on friends and family. We cry and laugh with Everest as she is mistaken for a man, her attempts to get rid of pesky lawn specialists, shopping for clothes, missed soccer tournaments, and her Christmas salad, left demolished and uneaten. silent sister calls out to friends, family, and strangers. Traumatic, hopeful, honest, this poetic journal begins inside a dark cave and ends with this poet choosing to stay in the light.”
Serpentine Loop by Elee Kraljii Gardiner (Anvil Press)
From the jurors: “Gardiner’s use of figure skating visuals and terms is brilliant. The poems cut across multiple themes, skating across relationships, childhood memories and loss cutting deep, taking elaborate risks, with few soft landings. Beginning and ending on the ice, a poetic figure 8, we travel with her through the inside and outside edges of life. Standouts include “Costume Maker 1960” about complex, abusive relationships and “Aubade”. Here Gardiner loops medical procedures with delicate figures of garden plants and flowers, confessing, “I am isolated, one stalk in a sterile vase.” “The inside of my forearm is written with winter ivy.” Both poems and the entire collection is worthy of Olympic gold.”
Lady Crawford by Julie Cameron Gray (Palimpsest Press)
Between imperial dinners and managing investments, Lady Crawford offers a rare glimpse of the inner-life of a woman who has married into a royal lineage. Chronicled in a series of metamorphic poems, Julie Cameron Gray reports from a world filled with parties and art before revealing the cost of an identity shed, as so many married women before her. Heartbreaking, drunken, and lavish.
Assdeep In Wonder by Christopher Gudgeon (Anvil Press)
From the jurors: “Gudgeon brings a queer sensibility to love, sex, politics, and famous figures in Canadian poetry. The poems are funny and formally varied, from sonnets to beat-like poems to vispo. Some of the pieces are heartbreaking – a fully lived life erupts from its pages. And other lives: as “The Revelations of Donald Trump” puts it, “I am living vicariously through my own lives,/ all of them,/ all at once.””
Burning in this Midnight Dream by Louise Bernice Halfe (Coteau Books)
From the jurors: “Burning in this Midnight Dream honours the witness of a singular experience, Halfe’s experience, that many others of kin and clan experienced. Halfe descends into personal and cultural darkness with the care of a master story-teller and gives story voice to mourning. By giving voice to shame, confusion, injustice Halfe begins to reclaim a history. It is the start of a larger dialogue than what is contained in the pages. She moves through hurt, anger, and shame by shining light on the dark parts of what we do to each other. It allows us, as readers, intimate knowledge and hope for reconnection and love. The book moves out of simple poetry, and moves towards reconciliation through poetry. Burning in this Midnight Dream helps to heal and helps to restore respect because of its unwavering intimacy.”
The Waking Comes Late by Steven Heighton (House of Anansi Press)
From the jurors: “The Waking Comes Late is intellectually arresting and emotionally illuminating. The poems have been given texture through imagery and careful construct. Heighton uses alliteration, glottal stops, and interesting line breaks, which offers the reader the opportunity to become deeply involved in the narrative. His nuanced writing breathes new meaning into the otherwise ordinary world that these beautiful poems inhabit.He is adept at drawing pictures with unusual imagery and has the gift of giving us a glimpse into the depths of wonderment.”
The Back Channels by Jennifer Houle (Signature Editions)
From the jurors: “Houle troubles the postcard picture of Acadie, a favourite activity of Francophone artists from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia since the 70’s. Houle revises this practice in formal verse with frequent use of Chiac dialect. The old version of region is troubled from the inside – the Acadian Renaissance analysed through the lens of complicity. For tourist and resident both, Houle warns “Who knew how much/ you’d fail to see, discordant tones / azured with travel guides.””
Players by John Nyman (Palimpsest Press)
From the jurors: “Nyman writes poems in a Stevensian mode updated for the present moment. With impressive intelligence, he ironizes the ironic use of pop culture, creating emotional power when the speaker tries to define what he is to himself, to others, and what others are to him. In “To KiD CuDi”, Nyman asks “Tell me, what do you know about dreaming?” He memorably answers for us, “I just want to be golden,/ that soul I hope remains, like yours – like/ anyone’s – unnamed.””
Let the Empire Down by Alexandra Oliver (Biblioasis)
In her second book, Alexandra Oliver takes us on a journey of escape from the suburbs of Canada to Glasgow, Scotland. Training her eye on the locals—on the streets, by rivers, in museums, on playgrounds, in their own homes, in the ill-starred town of Lockerbie—Oliver travels back into her past while reflecting on issues of exile, memory and identity.
This Being by Ingrid Ruthig (Fitzhenry & Whiteside)
From the jurors: “Formally elegant, Ruthig’s poetry is smooth and reflects an impeccable ear. Ruthig picks up an idea and unspools it to its end with precision and calmness. This is a book that took its time to be made and for its performance, being consistently excellent from front to back. Her poems read as sonic and “sombre supplicant to the whims/ of living, age, genetics, and weather” fashioned into a “stronghold of I.””
Heaven’s Thieves by Sue Sinclair (Brick Books)
Heaven’s Thieves is a collection engaged with the big questions—What are bodies for? What does it mean to be alive? What is beauty and why does it have such power over us? What is the point of art?—and the urgent ones—how to live in a shattered ecology, what to do about grief, illness, betrayal. Sinclair turns her attention to these questions with fearless curiosity, economy, and an originality born of her willingness to pursue her own line of inquiry to its limit. These poems get close and cut deep, mixing subject and object, surface and soul: “Red mud glistens / like cut fruit—or like the knife / that did the cutting, laid down.”
The Description of the World by Johanna Skibsrud (Wolsak & Wynn)
In The Description of the World Johanna Skibsrud brings us to the edges of dreams – and waking. With lines that are searching, but spacious, she deftly turns over ideas of perception and reality, inviting us to join her as she releases the abstract figure from its painting, or brings the poet in from the wilderness. This is a collection about possibility. The possibility of language and naming, of dropping – or not dropping – an atomic bomb, of giving birth, of love.
Après Satie – For Two and Four Hands by Dean Steadman (Brick Books)
From the jurors: “Steadman’s highly original Après Satie is deeply engaging because of its range. He crafts a confluence of delicious diction, succulent energy, and evocative voice. The playful nature of the book shows itself in a mock-mini play, a sonnet about Spirit Travel, and prose poems chock full of music and surrealistic imagery. If an author’s job is to enchant, this is what Dean Steadman does. The originality of this book makes it impossible to ignore, and easily allows it to stand apart from the regular crowd of poetry books. Apres Satie flies into your mouth and lands on your heart.”
The Unlit Path Behind the House by Margo Wheaton (McGill-Queen’s University Press)
Wheaton’s poems sing at the intersections where public and private worlds collide: the steady cadence of a boy carrying an unconscious girl in his arms, the afternoon journey of a woman taking books to prisoners, the rhythmic breathing of a homeless man asleep in a parking lot. In these works, fireflies pulse in the dark, lovers clasp and unclasp, and street signs sing like Blake’s angels. Deeply informed by the natural world, Wheaton’s writing is marked by great meditative depth; while passionately engaged, these poems evoke a field of mystery and stillness.
Songs of Exile by Bänoo Zan (Guernica Editions)
From the jurors: “Zan’s mature book exposes and documents ranges of emotion and belief of arriving elsewhere with one’s permanent past. Thus seeing her mother in a mirror unites past with future images. Her short, dramatic lines, as in “I am an articulate silence” explaining the Iran that is mainly unknown to her readers, reflect on a life that demonstrates that there are no 100% answers, just individual responses. Zan often exposes her life in intimate self conversation and/or in another’s voice: both ways to intrigue and educate her readers. This book could be known by her own words: “Here is your gift/ of earthquakes/ the lava of life.””