We asked the poets shortlisted for our 2018 Book Awards some questions about their writing lives, inspirations and -of course – poetry. Join us for our weekly series Ask a Shortlister until the winners are announced on June 16, 2018.
What are you currently reading?
Billy-Ray Belcourt: I just read NOT HERE, Hieu Minh Nguyen’s sophomore book of poetry. This line in particular is still with me: “I guess I’m trying to understand what makes a man / carry guilt the same way he would a bat.” This is a book whose metaphors and turns-of-phrases will stand in as the sole way to interpret social life, if only for the duration of time spent with NOT HERE.
Lesley Belleau: I am currently in the process of re-reading instead of reading. I want to revisit the first words that touched me. I need to know what drove me in the first place. I just want to re-taste everything to remember the beauty there. Maybe it’s because I have been working on my dissertation for so long, or I miss my family, or I miss who I used to be, or maybe I need to remember who I loved all along. I know that in the last month I read Richard Wagamese’s Keeper and me, because I wanted to go back and see his beginnings and to remember those first voices and remember the way he walked into writing before everything and to honour his words. I also read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera so many, many times because there are lines in that novel that are life-carrying, and ideas that only one who has tasted life could ever send to the world. I think of him like I think of my own beginnings. He writes like someone who wakes up constantly and who can live life over and over so beautifully. I also looked at Other Women by Evelyn Lau and Marilyn Dumont’s A Good Little Brown Girl because I need to be reminded of the memory of all these voices: it is the chasm between memory and a conversation between us that never happened, but almost seems real.
Jack Davis: I’m spoiled for choice at the moment with new books by some of my favourite poets all arriving recently. I’m reading and re-reading Cameron Anstee’s excellent and exciting new collection, Book of Annotations, I just received a copy of Guy Birchard’s wonderful new retrospective collection Aggregate, and Pam Rehm’s much anticipated Time Will Show, as well an astonishingly original series of poems titled Hatchless, by the yet-to-publish Toronto writer, Christina Baillie, whose work I find linguistically virtuosic and endlessly captivating.
Wendy Donawa: A lot of my reading is re-reading: I’ve just revisited Julian Barnes’ The Noise of Time. His unpacking of Shostakovich’s career under Stalin is sadly timely, and the reader is uncomfortably forced to ask “What would I do?” Is it possible for an artist to live with integrity in an oppressive regime? Is there a point at which the artist’s attempts to ignore tyranny and corruption become complicity? Are we all complicit?
I’ll read anything by Margaret Drabble—her latest, The Dark Flood Rises, explores the psychological complexity of a small group of aging individuals facing (or denying) their own mortality. What makes a good life, a good death? Her characters are so vivid and her social analysis so astute, her sardonic wit so entertaining I was sorry to get to the end.
And I’ve just finished George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo. Set in the early years of the American civil war, its many narrative voices are those of ghosts, but very neurotic ghosts who deny that they’re dead at all, so they take a somewhat warped view of the living who they comment on. It’s all so brilliantly eccentric I hardly know what to make of it. Can’t put it down.
Karen Enns: I usually have a few books going at the same time. I’ve been reading Patrick Friesen’s wonderful new collection of poems, Songen; a book essays and interviews on poetry by Donald Hall called Goatfoot Milktongue Twinbird; and I’ve recently picked up Clarice Inspector’s The Passion According to G.H.
Beth Goobie: I just finished reading a collection of Rilke’s poetry, which was really really good stuff. Though I don’t think I agree with his life philosophy, he sure could write. Next, I’m going to read Mika Lafond’s first book nipê wânîn: my way back. I am also reading a biography on the Bush family, which is keeping me righteously annoyed.
Cornelia Hoogland: I’m reading other writers on the League of Canadian Poets’ shortlist; books that I bought (or traded) during my poetry tours this past winter, namely Onjana Yawnghwe (not just her Fragments, Desire, but also her chapbook, Vancouver City Map); Julie Paul’s, The Rules of the Kingdom, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Karen Ens, Wendy Donawa, and others who were on the long list.
Catherine Owen: I read multiple genres at once. Poetry in the morning, currently Amy Clampitt (and John Ashbery, my constant go-to). Then I read theory and biography. At the moment those genres are almost merging in George Fetherling’s journals, along with Brian Barlett’s collection of occasional pieces. And at night, I enjoy fiction and children’s books. Presently re-visiting CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.