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: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: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.

Book:Stumbling in the Bloom

Stumbling in the Bloom

John Pass

The poems in Stumbling in the Bloom engage the ever-present enticements and entanglements of beauty on life’s, and art’s home ground—in wilderness and garden. But this surprising volume, the finale of John Pass’s quartet of poetry books, At Large, takes intriguing side trips on the home-stretch, including a singularly moving Canadian journey towards and away from the “ground zero” of the 9/11 tragedy. The book, and Pass’s aesthetic, come to rest finally on a fulcrum of acceptance: the embrace of uncertainty and (un)happy accident that purpose and effort alone make possible.
Book:Processional (Anne Compton)

Processional

Anne Compton

Processional is Anne Compton’s second book of poems, the follow-up to her widely-acclaimed, award-winning debut, Opening the Island.

Here Compton is at the head of a poetic procession, a guide leading readers through a house affected by both daily life and the extraordinary—stopping only to take in the change of seasons and prepare the outside yard for it. With one breath, she tells of life and death, with the next, play and metaphysics, joy and heartbreak. She is a guide like no other, accomplished and versatile, leading by example and from a distance at the same time.

Book:Kill-site: Poems

Kill-site: Poems

Tim Lilburn

To his virtuoso collection of new poems, Tim Lilburn brings a philosopher’s mind and the eyes and ears of a marsh hawk. This series of earthy meditations makes the strange familiar and the familiar strange. Lilburn’s close study of goldenrod, an ice sheet, or night opens into surprising interior and subterranean worlds. Pythagoras lurks within the poplars, Socrates in stones, people fly below the ground. Elsewhere, the human presence of motels and beer parlours is ominous. Kill-site is an exploration of a human’s animal nature. Lilburn invites the reader to: “Go below the small things… then / walk inside them and you have their kindness.” Though a natural progression from Lilburn’s last book, To the River, in Kill-site, the poet moves toward a greater understanding of the human, of sacrifice.

Book:Surrender (Roy Miki)

Surrender

Roy Miki

These poems open into a new space where ideas, identity, documents and authority are questioned, explored, and exploded. They exist in particular forms of apposition and opposition, often in parts that face each other across the page in dialogue, battle, or antiphony. Roy Miki is a brilliant, articulate poet, whose intermixture of the lyrical with the political, the moment with history, and whose exploration of the formation of identity makes him among the most original and powerful of contemporary poets.

Book:Execution Poems

Execution Poems

George Elliott Clarke

Execution Poems is a suite of poems about Clarke’s cousins, George and Rufus Hamilton, who were hanged in July 1949 for the murder of a Fredericton, New Brunswick, taxi driver. In this startling work, Clarke reminds us of racism and poverty and of their brutal, tragic results, blurring the line between the perpetrator and the victim? – a line we’d prefer to be simple and clear. As all true poetry should, Clarke’s embodies both damnation and redemption, offering convoluted triumphs alongside tragedy.

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