Its time to polish up on our Canadian Poetry — not just because poetry can be moving and rich and vibrant and naughty, and all kinds of other things — but also because this lot of poetry is distinctly Canadian, and one more step to completing our #NVCLreads Canada 150 bingo contest.
Just for the record, I’m not by nature a poetry reader. However, this particular post gave me a much needed opportunity to dip my hands into an overflowing pool of talent and perspective that I have for too long ignored, spanning idiosyncrasies of voice and style. Take these for what they are, a small smattering of what’s available, and mostly, a sure-fire way to expose yourself to poetry from the insides to the margins of Canada’s evolving literary landscape.
Up first is the 2016 anthology put out by the organizers of The Griffin Poetry Prize. The Prize is one of the richest poetry awards in the world. For this edition, Editor Adam Sol selected from a host of international and Canadian poets, the latter of which include poems from Per Brask and Patrick Friesen’s Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments (Brick Books), translated from the Danish written by Ulrikka S. Gernes, Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent by Liz Howard (McClelland & Stewart), and Tell: poems for a girlhood by Soraya Peerbaye (Pedlar Press).
One of Swift Current, Saskatchewan’s greatest gifts to Canada surely has to come in the form of poet Lorna Crozier, and particularly in this 17th work titled the The Wrong Cat: Poems. Her style has evolved beyond just lyrical and effortless turns of phrase. Here she transcends the mediocre with an irreverence of style that never waivers from a clear sense of character and a simple story told – ah, but always with a twist, humor where it is right, and scrumptious bites of reality. Take ‘Book of Small Mistakes’ as an example, and there is one about A ‘Moose’ that is sure to require a revisit, for all the right reasons. Animals of all kinds help her reflect on everything from the subdued to the sublime.
If irreverence is a style, C.R. Avery is its ambassador. He’s a local guy; fueled by his Commercial Drive roots, this avant- garde entertainer/slam poet gets to the heart of a variety of downtrodden, eccentrics, ‘temporaries’ and Bohemians that are the world around him in his home of East Vancouver. While his live performance always adds that extra bit of spice to his ‘beat’ inspired meanderings, he is of us, and all of us in many ways. As one reviewer notes, however, be prepared, “Avery’s poetry is alternatively profane, brilliantly vulgar, outrageously funny, and brash in its lonesome courage”. But, he is innovative in his style, continuing to evolve as a poet, and well worth a read.
John A. MacDonald referred to the Metis people as “pemmican eaters”. Such is the moniker that titles this collection of work by Marilyn Dumont, dedicated to illuminating characters and stories of the time of Louis Riel, and the rise of the Metis in Canada, bringing them seemingly into the present to face a reckoning. She confronts MacDonald directly, as well as all those who sought to denigrate the Metis by claiming herself and her identity as ‘halfbreed’ proudly. She declares herself loudly and movingly — never ceding dignity and integrity in the process. I’m particularly informed by “What We Don’t Need”, as I am equally moved by “Our Gabriel”, a celebration of sorts of her ancestor, Gabriel Dumont, and his courageous place in our history.
Awarded 2017’s Griffin Poetry Prize, Jordan Abel confronts the legacies of our Colonial past with ‘Injun’ a single poem, wrought out of inaccurate depictions of Indigenous people throughout dozens of pulp western novels. He took these novels and painstakingly searched for occurrences of the word ‘Injun’, isolating the sentences they were contained in, and fashioning a single poem out of the results. What is created, along with annotations for a little bit of context is a confrontation with the language of the occupier, with the violence that has been wrought on the First People of the land, and an opportunity to heal from complicit attempts to erase and discount culture through language, as difficult as it may be to face that. It is that difficulty that makes the poem all that much more worthwhile to read.
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
The most tender chapters of our lives are written through experiences with abuse, loss, violence and love. Milk and Honey is a pilgrimage through these deepest of emotions but resolved with a softness that comes through the light that is always there, wanting to find its way through. Divided into four sections that include “the hurting”, “the loving”, “the breaking”, and “the healing,” Kaur uses prose to address themes of loss and femininity. Milk and Honey is one of the few books of Canadian poetry that has spent 52 weeks on the New York times best sellers list and has been translated into over 25 languages around the world.
To This Day: For the Bullied and Beautiful by Shane Koyczan
There wasn’t any Canadian who didn’t feel the pride of a nation bearing witness to poet Shane Koyczan’s stirring poem “We Are More” at the opening ceremonies of 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Here he takes another of his poems ‘To This Day’ and refashions it into a rallying cry against bullying. Based on his own experiences being bullied, the poem is heartfelt and emotional, but strong and inspirational. Koyczan helps us rise to the resilience that lies beneath, confronting the bully within and around us all. So inspirational was the poem that he produced a YouTube video for a 2013 Ted Conference that has garnered millions of views, and continues to encourage others to this day.