I have never really been the biggest reader of poetry, but the more I’ve been getting into reading more Canadian literature, the more I’ve been interested in checking out authors of all genres, whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, and now poetry.
The long list for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award for Poetry was announced in March. If you’re unaware of what this award is all about, here’s what the League of Canadian Poets says:
The Pat Lowther Memorial Award is given for a book of poetry by a Canadian woman, and is in memory of the late Pat Lowther, whose career was cut short by her untimely death in 1975. The award carries a $1,000 prize. It is presented each year at the LCP Annual Conference in June, with the shortlist announced in April.
I figured if anywhere was a place to start, it would be with poetry by Canadian women. I had heard of a few titles on the list, but a lot of them were new to me. I immediately started requesting titles through interlibrary loan at my library and got reading!
Before I get into my experience reading these titles, here are my thoughts on what I read:
All We Saw by Anne Michaels
Weirdly, for the first book in the long list that I read, this wasn’t my favourite of the bunch. Yes, it was very lyrical and there were some beautiful passages but it wasn’t too memorable for me. There is a lot of white space in this book and I was flipping the pages so quick that it was almost distracting – it didn’t really let me get into the poetry when there were only a few lines to each page and the poem was so broken up. I did really enjoy the poems that were based on one repeated phrase, but sadly they didn’t save the collection for me.
Otolith by Emily Nilsen
Otolith was a beautiful collection of poems, mostly returning to the water and themes surrounding water and the earth. As I was reading this, I instantly wanted to go back and take in each line slower, researching words and places and whatever I could to root the poems inside me. I loved returning the fog, to the cabins (did you see the ghost?), and the otolith. I was fascinated Nilsen’s use of language and even though there were sections of white space, they felt separated, like a return to a previous theme and even in parts that had one line had me hooked. I can’t believe how few reviews there are on this on Goodreads – I highly recommend reading it!
Linger, Still by Aislinn Hunter
First off, this book is absolutely gorgeous to look at – the huge illustration of a fox on the first page was gorgeous and the spine and cover are just so pretty. It’s definitely a book for the shelf. At first I was a little unsure of the poetry in this collection – Hunter uses a lot of big themes in this book and I felt intimidated at first, but by the end I was completely in love. I adored the very last section, Esk, on the state of being and of death, with the inclusion of Greek text, and it literally brought me to tears. This is one of those collections that must be read slowly and out loud – and definitely one that you need to read.
Admission Requirements by Phoebe Wang
This is the book of poetry from this long list that I’ve known about for the longest. I first saw it on NetGalley, then the library website, and so I was eager to read it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t connect with a lot of the poetry in here. I liked some of the poems but I found that once I finished, the collection wasn’t memorable. All of the poems seemed to bleed together, with the same voice, the same style of writing – there was nothing overly exciting to me, nothing to really grasp on to my heart and not let go.
breathing at dusk by Beth Goobie
This collection took me a bit by surprise. I started reading it one afternoon when the kids were sleeping and really enjoyed the poems recalling growing up in the prairies and the images that the poems were painting. I didn’t manage to get back to the collection until a few days later and I remembered what I was loving about it as I read poems on Goobie’s father as a music teacher. Being a musician, I loved the way that Goobie wrote about music. The poems then took a bit of a dark turn into the biography of Goobie growing up and I was hooked and horrified by what I was reading. The beauty of the poems was still there and even though I couldn’t stomach some of the subject matter of the poems, this is still one of my favourites.
Feel Happier in Nine Seconds by Linda Gesner
As I sit to write this, I’m halfway through another book of poetry, but I can’t stop thinking about this one – and I’m still not sure if it’s for all the right, or all the wrong reasons. This collection sounded like it would be amazing but I read through the whole thing utterly confused. Gesner has an interesting use of language and you can tell while reading that each word is well thought out and deliberately placed. I didn’t feel like the poems in this collection really rolled off the tongue, and I’ll admit that I read the whole thing with a furrowed brow. There was an interesting poem based off of the Fisher Price refrigerator magnets – something that I would never have known had I not read the notes at the back of the book. Interestingly enough, I rated this book a 2, but it’s a collection that has stuck with me and still makes me think so maybe that means I subconsciously liked it?
And the one I couldn’t finish:
The Corpses of the Future by Lynn Crosbie
Initially I was really enjoying this one, but then it just got tedious to read. Out of all of the collections I had read, this one had extremely high ratings and I can see why. Crosbie’s account of her father’s experience with dementia was equally horrifying and heartbreaking. Crosbie tells the reader in the beginning that the poems acted as a journal for her – a way to deal with what her father was going through. I enjoyed the poems at first, even if they were hard to read, but the style remained the same throughout and just after 50% I was getting bored with the same poem structure and the same confessional-type prose. This collection is very personal, however, and I can see why it’s garnered so many high ratings, but this is where I started to realize that maybe I can’t read so much poetry at once.
It was interesting reading these poems and then going into Goodreads to add my ratings – for collections that are nominated for awards, more than a few of them had very few ratings on Goodreads. Does this mean that people aren’t reading poetry? Or that the people who read poetry aren’t on Goodreads? There were definitely some collections that were very accessible in their reading, and others that weren’t so much (I’m still thinking about Feel Happier In Nine Seconds). There were poems that brought tears to my eyes, had my anxiety-filled heart racing, or filled me with a deep sadness. There were poems that piqued my curiosity and poems that begged for a reread and more analysis.
Ultimately though, I don’t think that I can be as big of a poetry reader as I want to be. I appreciate the writing and love the layouts of a good poetry collection, but at the heart of it all, I’m a person who likes something with a story. I find that poems can be so ambiguous, or so personal, but whether I’m understanding them or not, there’s still something separating me from really enjoying the experience. If I get a snippet into someone’s biography and it grabs me, I want more of a story from that experience, not so much bits and pieces that are sometimes written in a way that makes it impossible for the reader to connect with the writing.
I did manage to read nearly 7 collections that are in the long list and I do hope that some of these are on the shortlist. I do wish I could’ve read the additional 9 collections, but as I was reading one every 1-2 days, it was getting tiring. I was missing reading longer stories and sometimes the subject matter was just too dark for me to digest – especially over and over again.
My favourites in this collection were:
And the book I think will win the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, based on the ones I read?
I know I didn’t manage to read all of the poems in the long list, but I feel like the way Gesner’s poems are structured, as well as the uniqueness of Magnetic Variations on One and Six, will be what makes her stand out.
At any rate, I think that most of these collections are well worth a read, especially since they’re written by Canadian women – there are seasoned writers as well as new writers and there was so much variety in all of these books that I managed to read, that I think it’s a good starting place.
Have you read any of the collections in this list? What do you look for when you read poetry – something to stretch your muscles, or something to rip your heart out? What poetry collection have you read that you can’t stop thinking about? Are you a big poetry reader or can you only handle it in small doses?