For National Poetry Month we spoke with Lesley Fletcher, Executive Director of the League of Canadian Poets, to gain some insight into the significance of the celebration, and the important role independent bookstores play in sustaining Canadian poets and poetry.
“Canadian Poetry has seen a recent explosion in popularity, with increased sales and event attendance, and with diversity and meaningful new stories and perspectives climbing to the top of lists and the front of bookstores all around Canada. Poetry stories from the pandemic share the lines, verses, notebooks, and performances that have helped Canadians through these unprecedented, lonely, and difficult times. In 2021, to celebrate National Poetry Month, we chose the theme “Resilience” to honour the strength of communities all over the world that has carried us through more than a year of challenging pandemic conditions.
Independent bookstores play a crucial role in keeping poetry thriving in Canada. They find emerging authors, essential publishers, and new voices to showcase and hand sell to their customers. The recommendations and sales that come from indie booksellers can amplify the success of a poet and poetry collection immeasurably.
To celebrate and honour independent bookstores in a new way, this year the League of Canadian Poets will again welcome an independent bookstore into our membership with the annual Honorary Membership Award. The winner (to be announced in June 2021) will receive honorary membership in the League of Canadian Poets, and will be celebrated with a poetry reading to showcase poets and community members who love and value the store. Our bookstore honorary members will join such bookstores as Ben McNally Books and Another Story Bookshop and be formally recognized for their active, essential, and innovative contribution to promoting and supporting poets and poetry in Canada.”
So, let’s hear it for the poets! In celebration of National Poetry Month, CIBA has curated a selection of some of the incredible debut poetry collections being published this month. Use these books as an excuse to take a break from unpacking those boxes. Read, reflect, then make sure you spread the word to your customers!
By Selina Boan
Published by Nightwood Editions
Selina Boan’s debut poetry collection, Undoing Hours, considers the various ways we undo, inherit, reclaim and (re)learn. Boan’s poems emphasize sound and breath. They tell stories of meeting family, of experiencing love and heartbreak, and of learning new ways to express and understand the world around her through nêhiyawêwin.
Selina Boan is a white settler-nehiyaw writer living on the traditional, unceded territories of thexʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-waututh), and sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) peoples. Her debut poetry collection, Undoing Hours, is forthcoming with Nightwood Editions in Spring 2021. Her work has been published widely, including The Best Canadian Poetry 2018 and 2020. She has received several honours, including the 2017 National Magazine Award for Poetry, and was a finalist for the 2020 CBC poetry award. She is currently a poetry editor for Rahila’s Ghost Press and is a member of The Growing Room Collective.
By Molly Cross-Blanchard
Published by Coach House Books
One minute she’s drying her underwear on the corner of your mirror, the next she’s asking the sky to swallow her up: the narrator of Exhibitionist oscillates between a complete rejection of shame and the consuming heaviness of it. Painfully funny, brutally honest, and alarmingly perceptive, Molly Cross- Blanchard’s poems use humour and pop culture as vehicles for empathy and sorry-not-sorry confessionalism. What this speaker wants more than anything is to be seen, to tell you the worst things about herself in hopes that you’ll still like her by the end.
Molly Cross-Blanchard is a Métis writer and editor born on Treaty 3 territory (Fort Frances, ON), raised on Treaty 6 territory (Prince Albert, SK), and living on the unceded terri-tory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples (Vancouver, BC). She holds an English BA from the University of Winnipeg and a Creative Writing MFA from the University of British Columbia, and is the Publisher at Room Magazine.
By Therese Estacion
Published by Book*hug Press
Therese Estacion survived a rare infection that nearly killed her, but not without losing both her legs below the knees, several fingers, and reproductive organs. Phantompains is a visceral, imaginative collection exploring disability, grief and life by interweaving stark memories with dreamlike surrealism.
Estacion says she wrote these poems out of necessity: an essential task to deal with the trauma of hospitalization and what followed. Now, they are demonstrations of the power of our imaginations to provide catharsis, preserve memory, rebel and even to find self-love.
Therese Estacion is part of the Visayan diaspora community. She spent her childhood between Cebu and Gihulngan, two distinct islands found in the archipelago named by its colonizers as the Philippines, before she moved to Canada with her family when she was ten years old. She is an elementary school teacher and is currently studying to be a psychotherapist. Therese is also a bilateral below knee and partial hands amputee, and identifies as a disabled person/person with a disability. Therese lives in Toronto. Her poems have been published in CV2 and PANK Magazine, and shortlisted for the Marina Nemat Award. Phantompains is her first book.
By Mary Germaine
Published by House of Anansi Press
Through poems that speak to plastic bags and drones as much as they admire roses and the moon, Germaine surfs the confluence of artificial and natural environments, technology, and our small but consequential feelings about them. At turns devotional and suspicious, these poems toe the boundaries of intimacy, responsibility, and reason.
Mary Germaine is a poet, an educator, and a Ph.D. student at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. Her poems have appeared in The Walrus Magazine, Riddle Fence, the ArtSci Effect, and Augur Magazine. She was the recipient of the Adam Penn Gilders Scholarship for Creative Writing from the University of Toronto and the Heaslip Award from Memorial University. Her special talents include finding lost items and having a face that reminds people of someone else they know.
Me, You, Then Snow
By Khashayar Mohammadi
Published by Gordon Hill Press
Me, You, Then Snow by Khashayar Mohammadi is a collection of poetry woven from dreams, memories and deep-seeded longing, a collection of poetry that ranges from ambiguously addressed love-letters, to ekphrastic poems for arthouse cinema, to pieces written near midnight when the day’s experiences rush back into view. Though working in diverse forms and styles, the poetry manifests as a profoundly unified desire to experience and communicate the world.
Khashayar Mohammadi is an Iranian-born, Toronto-based writer and translator. He is the host of knife | fork | book’s monthly Chapbook Club and the author of chapbooks Moe’s Skin with ZED PRESS and Dear Kestrel with knife | fork | book. He is currently working on a full length translation anthology of contemporary female Persian poets.
By Dallas Hunt
Published by Nightwood Editions
Creeland is a poetry collection concerned with notions of home and the quotidian attachments we feel to those notions, even across great distances. Even in an area such as Treaty Eight (northern Alberta), a geography decimated by resource extraction and development, people are creating, living, laughing, surviving and flourishing—or at least attempting to.
The poems in this collection are preoccupied with the role of Indigenous aesthetics in the creation and nurturing of complex Indigenous lifeworlds. They aim to honour the encounters that everyday Cree economies enable, and the words that try—and ultimately fail—to articulate them. Hunt gestures to the movements, speech acts and relations that exceed available vocabularies, that may be housed within words like joy, but which the words themselves cannot fully convey. This debut collection is vital in the context of a colonial aesthetic designed to perpetually foreclose on Indigenous futures and erase Indigenous existence.
Dallas Hunt is Cree and a member of Wapsewsipi (Swan River First Nation) in Treaty Eight territory in northern Alberta. He has had creative worked published in Contemporary Verse 2, Prairie Fire, PRISM international and Arc Poetry. His first children’s book, Awâsis and the World-famous Bannock, was published through Highwater Press in 2018, and was nominated for several awards. Hunt is an assistant professor of Indigenous literatures at the University of British Columbia
The Language We Were Never Taught to Speak
By Grace Lau
Published by Guernica Editions
The poems in The Language We Were Never Taught to Speak explore the many identities, both visible and invisible, that a body contains. With influences from pop culture, the Bible, tech, and Hong-Kongese history, these pieces reflect and reveal how the stories of immigrants in Canada hold both universal truths and singular distinctions. From boy bands that show the way to become “the kind of girl a girl could love” to “rich flavours that are just a few generations of poverty away,” they invite the reader to meditate on spirituality, food, and the shapes love takes.
Grace Lau is a Hong Kong–born, Chinese Canadian writer raised in Vancouver and currently living in Toronto. She enjoys Harry Styles’ fashion choices, swaying to music, and sushi. Find her on social media @thrillandgrace.
By Rebecca Salazar
Published by McClelland & Stewart
An urgent, powerful examination of place and the ways in which all kinds of identities exist and collide.
The poems in sulphurtongue ask how to redefine desire and kinship across languages, and across polluted environments. An immigrant family scatters over a stolen continent. Oracles appear in public transit, and online. Bodies are transformed by nearby nickel mines. Doppelgangers, Catholic saints, and polyamorists alike pass on unusual inheritances. Deeply entangled in relations both emotional and ecological, this collection confronts the stories we tell about gender, queerness, race, religion, illness, and trauma, seeking new forms of care for a changing world.
Rebecca Salazar (she/they) is a writer, editor, and community organizer currently living on the unceded territory of the Wolastoqiyik people. The author of poetry chapbooks the knife you need to justify the wound (Rahila's Ghost) and Guzzle (Anstruther), Salazar also edits for The Fiddlehead and Plenitude magazines.
By Bardia Sinaee
Published by House of Anansi Press
Bemused and droll, paranoid and demagogic, Sinaee’s much-anticipated debut collection presents a world beset by precarity, illness, and human sprawl. Anxiety, hospitalization, and body paranoia recur in the poems’ imagery — Sinaee went through two-and-a-half years of chemotherapy in his mid-twenties, documented in the vertiginous multipart prose poem “Twelve Storeys” — making Intruder a book that seems especially timely, notably in the dreamlike, minimalist sequence “Half-Life,” written during the lockdown in Toronto in spring 2020.
Progressing from plain-spoken dispatches about city life to lucid nightmares of the calamities of history, the poems in Intruder ultimately grapple with, and even embrace, the daily undertaking of living through whatever the hell it is we’re living through.
Bardia Sinaee was born in Tehran, Iran, and currently lives in Toronto. He is the author of the chapbooks Blue Night Express and Salamander Festival. His poems have also appeared in magazines across Canada and in several editions of Best Canadian Poetry. In 2012 his poem “Barnacle Goose Ballad” was Reader’s Choice winner for The Walrus Poetry Prize, and in 2020 he was co-winner of the Capilano Review’s Robin Blaser Award. He holds an M.F.A. in Poetry from Guelph University’s Graduate Program in Creative Writing. Intruder is his first book.