The 2019 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award goes to…
Obits. by Tess Liem (Coach House Books)
From the publisher: Can poems mourn the unmourned? In Obits. a speaker tries and fails to write obituaries for those whose memorials are missing, those who are represented only as statistics. She considers victims of mass deaths, fictional characters, and her own aunt, asking what does it mean to be an ‘I’ mourning a ‘you’ when both have been othered? Centring vulnerability, the various answers to this question pass through trauma, depression, and the experience of being a mixed-race queer woman.
From the jurors: Tess Liem’s Obits. is a rare success for any book, let alone a debut. Namely, it manages to create what feels like an entire intellectual world: whole ethics, aesthetics, aspirations, fears, and philosophies, line by line and trope by trope. The book takes real risks dangling over the edge of amateurism with its emotive openers and its centre-alignment, and relies on nothing but prosody and guts to win a skeptical reader back. It contains one of the most complete treatments of depression in Canadian poetry and an expansive, challenging, new approach to the idea of mourning. Most importantly, Liem’s ability to manage the collection itself as a gestalt object, tying images to one another across pages and reusing titles, sounds, and lines, is downright symphonic. It feels like someone’s life’s work.
Tess Liem lives in Tio’tia:ke/Mooniyaang—unceded Haudenosaunee and Anishinabe territories (Montreal, QC). Her writing appears in The Puritan, Plenitude, Cosmonauts Avenue, THIS and elsewhere. Her debut collection of poetry, Obits. (Coach House 2018), was shortlisted for a Lambda Literary award.
To see the 2019 Book Awards shortlists, click here.
Thank you to our 2019 jury: Adebe DeRango-Adem, Amanda Earl, and Jacob McArthur Mooney.