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: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: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:Birds, Metals, Stones & Rain: Poems

Birds, Metals, Stones & Rain: Poems

Russell Thornton

The crows pick at the waste on the asphalt.
The men push jingling shopping carts. Or stand and mimic life
in a prison yard. The wild white swan is dead. Where I caught
trout as a child, no trout swim now. The drives
and crescents gouge ravines, make creeks disappear. Where wild
baby fish run, they run the gauntlet of penned fish. They are eaten alive…
— from “Nest of the Swan’s Bones”

Russell Thornton’s latest collection of poems, Birds, Metals, Stones and Rain, explores powerful, primary human…[more]

Book:Bite Down Little Whisper

Bite Down Little Whisper

Don Domanski

From a master poet, meditative lines running like veins through the dark grace of being alive.

Award–winning poet Don Domanski’s new collection, Bite Down Little Whisper, delves into the interconnectedness of all life with spiritual gravitas and powerful mindfulness. These are poems brimming with mythological and scientific energies, with a multi-dimensionality that opens itself to both complexity and clarity. Domanski shows us seams and fastenings that unite our longings with the earth itself, with the nonhuman vitality that surrounds us. The heart’s need for unity and reverence is present in these poems as a whisper we hear in occasional moments of quietude, when it’s possible to perceive the workings of a larger existence.

Quietude is called returning to life Lao Tze says…[more]
Book:The Polymers (Adam Dickinson)

The Polymers

Adam Dickinson

The Polymers is a bold and brilliant new work from one of our most ambitious poetic minds. Structured as an imaginary science project, the varied pieces in this collection investigate the intersection of poetry and chemicals, specifically plastics, attempting to understand their essential role in culture. Through various procedures, constraints, and formal mutations, the poems express the repeating structures fundamental to plastic molecules as they appear in cultural and linguistic behaviours such as arguments, anxieties, and trends. Adam Dickinson’s poems challenge our understanding of the world around us while simultaneously demonstrating the plasticity at work in the very words we use to describe this world.

A wildly experimental and chemically reactive work, The Polymers thrills and provokes. You’ll never look at the world of a poem — or the world itself — in the same way again.

Book:Where the Sun Shines Best

Where the Sun Shines Best

Austin Clarke

Three Canadian soldiers awaiting deployment to the war in Afghanistan beat a homeless man to death on the steps of their armoury after a night of heavy drinking. The poet, whose downtown Toronto home overlooks the armoury and surrounding park, describes the crime, its perpetrators, the victim, and a cast of homeless witnesses that includes the woman, a prostitute, who first alerts police. The subsequent trial evokes reflection on the immigrant experience the poet shares with one of the accused, and on the agony of that young soldier’s mother.

From Kandahar to Bridgetown to Mississauga, Ontario, Where the Sun Shines Best encompasses a tragedy of epic scope, a lyrical meditation on poverty, racism and war, and a powerful indictment of the ravages of imperialism.

Book:Any Bright Horse

Any Bright Horse

Lisa Pasold

When Marco Polo was captured by the Genoese he whiled away his year in prison by dictating a memoir, the Livre des Merveilles. Polo’s Book of Wonders became a raging best seller before printing presses even existed—Christopher Columbus travelled with his own carefully-annotated copy. Poet Lisa Pasold takes Polo’s stories about Afghanistan, Russia, and China to speculate on the transformative effect of journeys, especially upon those who insist on finding marvels.

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