Honor roll: Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry

Each of these books has been nominated for a Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry. They are ranked by honors received.

Book:Short Journey Upriver Toward Oishida

Short Journey Upriver Toward Ōishida: Poems

Roo Borson

In Roo Borson’s new watershed collection, it is as though language were being taught to increase its powers of concentration, to hearken simultaneously to the fully impinged-upon senses, the reflecting mind with its griefs and yearnings, the heart with its burden of live memory. Always “the line bends as the river bends,” a quick ever-adjusting music that carries in its current those cherished, perishable, details of eye and ear, mid-life reflections on loss and home, the subtle shifts in season suddenly made strange and re-awakened. Recurrently, probingly, the line returns to the place of poetry in our lives. In the spirit of Basho’s famous journey to the far north, Borson’s “short journey” reminds us of the role of poetry in shaping and deepening our engagement with the world.

Book:Killdeer (Phil Hall)

Killdeer

Phil Hall

These are poems of critical thought that have been influenced by old fiddle tunes. These are essays that are not out to persuade so much as ruminate, invite, accrue. Hall is a surruralist (rural and surreal), and a terroir-ist (township-specific regionalist). He offers memories of, and homages to—Margaret Laurence, Bronwen Wallace, Libby Scheier, and Daniel Jones, among others. He writes of the embarrassing process of becoming a poet, and of his push-pull relationship with the whole concept of home. His notorious 2004 chapbook essay “The Bad Sequence” is also included here, for a wider readership, at last. It has been revised. (Its teeth have been sharpened.) In this book, the line is the unit of composition; the reading is wide; the perspective personal: each take a give, and logic a drawback. In Fred Wah’s phrase, what is offered here is “the music at the heart of thinking.”

Book:Another Gravity

Another Gravity: Poems

Don McKay

This book, Don McKay’s ninth collection, practises “the dark art of reflection”—which, as one of the poems tells us, whether boldly or capriciously, could not have existed without the moon—as it moves ever more deeply into ideas of home.

Book:Sailing to Babylon: Poems

Sailing to Babylon: Poems

James Pollock

Sailing to Babylon is the first full-length collection from James Pollock. These are poems of exploration and discovery of the self and the universal. Closer to home, there is the schoolboy fascination with the English teacher; the grandmother’s old Bible; a Dantean-style extended account of a hiking adventure with a young son, fully realized in terza rima. Further out in time and geography, Pollock muses on figures from Canadian history—explorers Henry Hudson, David Thompson, and John Franklin; pioneering literary theorist Northrop Frye; and pianist Glenn Gould. Each of these quests has accompanying trials or triumphs. This is a collection full of surprises and pleasures, with a treasure-chest mapped for discovery in “an image of the world/ made small enough to hold inside the mind.” A book that has the power to take you “to the place/ exactly where you always meant to go.”

Book:North End Love Songs

North End Love Songs

Katherena Vermette

A self-described “tuff grrl with two ffs” there is no doubt that after poet Katherena Vermette’s first collection of poetry, North End Love Songs, she will also be known as one “tuff” poet. Chronicling several short lived affairs that follow the break-up of a long term relationship, North End Love Songs recounts a quest for love in all wrong places. In it poet Katherena Vermette pulls out all the stops with gritty stripped down lyrics about the kind of love doesn’t always talk nice, sometimes drinks way too much, smokes when it shouldn’t and winds up in bed with people it barely knows or trusts.

But North End Love Songs is more than just a poetic road trip to the wrong side of love. Described by critics as having “a complicated sense of beauty,” there is undeniable eloquence at work in Katherena Vermette’s poetry. These poems go way deeper than the usual explorations of loss and self discovery, grappling with the destructive social and cultural constructs…[more]

Book:Monkey Ranch: Poems

Monkey Ranch: Poems

Julie Bruck

Comic and sober by turns, these poems ask us “what is sufficient, what will suffice?”

… a mandrill, a middle-aged woman, a shattered Baghdad neighbourhood, a long marriage, even a spoon, grapple with this unanswerable conundrum—sometimes with rage, or plain persistence, sometimes with the furious joy of a dog who gets to ride with his head through a truck’s passenger window. Julie Bruck’s third book of poetry is a brilliant and unusual blend of pathos and play, of deep seriousness and wildly veering humour. Though Bruck “does not stammer when it’s time to speak up,” and “will not blink when it’s time to stare directly at the uncomfortable,” as Cornelius Eady says in his blurb for the book, “in Monkey Ranch she celebrates more than she sighs, and she smartly avoids the shallow trap of mere indignation by infusing her lines with bright, nimble turns, the small, yet indelible detail. Bruck sees everything we do; she just seems to see it wiser. Her poems sing and roil with everything complicated and joyous we human monkeys are.”

Book:Boxing the Compass

Boxing the Compass

Richard Greene

Boxing the Compass is a poetry collection of mid-life reassessments that also makes room for the martyrdom of Saint Polycarp, tone-deaf church choirs, the last of the Newfoundland whalers, and vividly remembered Portuguese fishermen. Spiritually searching and intellectually rich, Richard Greene’s third book—which ranges from intimate to ironic to satiric—shuns easy answers in poems of unfashionable eloquence comprised of colloquial textures, clear-eyed narratives, political subtexts, and no-nonsense introspection.

Book:The Fly in Autumn

The Fly in Autumn

David Zieroth

The Fly in Autumn is a nuanced work with an absurdist twist in which recognizable landscapes—of North Vancouver quays and piers and harbour fog—are sometimes irrevocably altered by “water-light” into places of the mind alive with “the hundred thousand thoughts everyone collects in a day.” Risking unease, using language both tender and ironic, Zieroth’s poems range from the cockiness of flight, from Dick and Jane readers to insurance clerks and blind nurses, and to the inevitability of decline. Still, the poet remains alert to the re-emergence of “his boyhood hope: to be brave, to ship out, to learn to sleep on waves.”

Book:More to Keep Us Warm

More to Keep Us Warm

Jacob Scheier

Both chronicle and confrontation, the poems of Jacob Scheier’s debut work out and through notions of loss. As the death of a young man’s mother instigates and informs these investigations, the realities of romantic failures become inextricably connected, and in the process More to Keep Us Warm maps the limitations, and breaking points, of the human heart. Questioning how and why we fall in and out of love becomes the collection’s haunting refrain.At the same time, Scheier’s poems mourn the absence of both religious and cultural identity. Facing the painful and confusing losses of his life, the support of the only “tradition” the writer knows—an atheist, socialist upbringing—proves unsatisfying. In response, More to Keep Us Warm explores the formation of a new, complex sense of self as inherited belief systems fail. With humour, sardonic wit, and conversational charm, this search engages and struggles with Judeo-Christian tradition to become an intimate meditation on the nature of God in a secular world.

Book:All Our Wonder Unavenged

All Our Wonder Unavenged

Don Domanski

Don Domanski’s eighth book of poetry is full of a meditative alertness that, through metaphor and insight, manages to simultaneously transform our reality and reveal it. In fluid, intensely moving poems, Domanski shows us what Roo Borson calls a “mirror for the inexhaustible” and is nothing less than an illuminating distillation of what it means to be alive in a sentient universe. This is a book to renew one’s belief in the sacredness of writing. “As far as I am concerned, there is no better poet writing in English.”—Mark Strand.

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