Yesterday we brought you Part 1 of our Year in Poetry questionnaire, in which we asked our recent contributors:
1) What was your Favourite Poetry Book?
2) What was your Discovery of the Year? and
3) What advice do you have for 2017?
We received so many thoughtful responses we couldn’t fit them all in one place, so without further ado, we bring you Part 2 of Vallum: Contemporary Poetry‘s Year in Poetry.
Mary Jo Bang
1. My favourite poetry book published in 2016 is The Wug Test by Jennifer Kronovet. Kronovet’s book is a correction to the bizarre idea being put forward recently by some that language doesn’t mean anything, that a politician can tell lies or utter hate speech and then say he or she was “just kidding,” or that someone can maintain that there are no “facts” and therefore politically self-serving statements must not be questioned.
As a reviewer in Publishers Weekly wrote: “Rigorously intellectual and compassionate in its approachability, this second collection from Kronovet (Awayward), a 2015 National Poetry Series winner, employs linguistics research to probe how language makes ‘the world a glass we fill by speaking.’ There is a fierce and tender optimism in the notion that ‘a box can be// a word can be a ship can be/ the blank that takes us to each other.’ Tenderness is at the core of these poems, and Kronovet turns over each word carefully as only an attentive lover of language can.”
2. For me, there were two exciting discoveries of the year in poetry. One was via Vivian Pollak’s Our Emily Dickinsons (University of Pennsylvania Press). Pollak’s book examines Dickinson’s hold on the poetic imagination of Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop and Sylvia Plath. The book made me realize how radically misrepresented Dickinson has been by scholars and biographers who have often made her seem high-strung and neurasthenic, always speaking haltingly from behind a just-ajar door. Pollak gives us not one but many Emilys, none measured by neurotic insufficiency, but all living a robust poetic life—and an equally robust afterlife in which she profoundly influenced other strong women poets. The value of Vivian Pollak’s book, which I am certain will be lasting, is that by tracing her influence, Pollak reveals a Dickinson that is less fragile, more capable, more knowingly engaged in poetic de-familiarization.
The second discovery was via Terese Svoboda’s Anything that Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet (Schaffner Press). I had never read poems by Lola Ridge and yet, as Svoboda makes clear, I should have. Ridge was a major figure in American Modernism who enjoyed a wide readership during her lifetime, published many books, some of which won major prizes, and was a mentor to others poets whose work is still read today. Her work influenced Hart Crane, among others. I was rather stunned by how quickly and how completely she was forgotten after she died in 1941. She clearly deserves to be read and remembered. Without her, modernist history is incomplete.
3. More than ever before, we have to be diligent in speaking out against any attempt for people, especially politicians, to manipulate language in a manner that undermines fact and truth. We have to raise our voices to protect every kind of natural diversity—skin color, sexual identity, ethnicity, country of origin. We have to protect the rights of women to control their bodies and their minds. We have to ensure free public education. It’s a tall order, but if we fail to do any of these things, we will put the fabric of our society at risk. And if we don’t protect the air and water and land, we will destroy every hope we have for a future.
Mary Jo Bang‘s most recent collection of poems is The Last Two Seconds (2015, Graywolf Press); a new collection, A Doll for Throwing, will be published by Graywolf in August 2017. See Mary Jo’s poem “The Scurrying White Mice Disappear” in Vallum 13:2.
John Wall Barger
1. My favourite was The Deleted World, a tiny book of Tranströmer’s poems. The translations (by Robin Robertson) are good, but really I’ll take any excuse to revisit Tranströmer’s frozen visionary landscape. I love how he flashes from a personal detail to the earth to some (visionary) truth about existence: “I close my eyes. / There is a silent world, / there is a crack / where the dead / are smuggled over the border.” And he is not afraid, as so many of us are nowadays, of talking about the soul.
2. A friend recommended Alice Oswald. She’s amazing! Her new book, Falling Awake, packs a punch, but in a subtle, quiet, pensive way. I find I crave such poems, maybe because that energy is the opposite of my own. I love her delicious, delicate repetitions and music (“What is the word for wordless, when the ground / bursts into crickets?”). She has me staring at the hawks circling above our house, and writing aubades.
3. I just reread one of my favourite novels, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. It’s set in the US in 1850, “in a time before nomenclature was and each was all.” The language is so astoundingly fresh: King James archaisms, southern colloquialisms, apocalyptic metaphor, and more. As I read I kept wondering how in hell McCarthy did that. I mean, did he have a photographic memory, or had he collected thousands of quotes—I pictured his walls covered with taped Bible pages, fortune cookies, newspaper clippings, overheard phrases—to use in his books? Then it occurred to me: it’s all him, inventing, not copying. He’s inside that nomenclature. It never happened, nobody ever spoke that way, it’s his alone. It was a lightning bolt moment for me, about voice. Up to a point we collect and repeat, then we become the engine of our own unique diction.
In 2016, John Wall Barger came out with two chapbooks (“Samovar / Dukkha” (Baseline Press) and “The Vnfortunate Report & Tragicall Tidings of Leslie Barger” (Thee Hellbox Press)), and his poems are forthcoming in Hotel Amerika, Cimarron Review, Freefall, and Arc. See John’s poem “The Swans Flew Out of the Sun” in Vallum 13:1.
1. Matthew Dickman’s Mayakovsky’s Revolver, Norton, 2012.
2. A new book that just came out with Frontenac House Poetry, Blood Orange by Heidi Garnett. Powerful, heart-breaking poems about the author’s family experience in WW2 Germany.
3. For 2017 I have no advice for anyone else, just for myself. To try to do the next right thing to stop the terrible destruction of our beautiful planet and the creatures who live here.
Lorna Crozier‘s The Wrong Cat (McClelland and Stewart, 2015) won the Pat Lowther Award and the Raymond Souster Award. See Lorna’s poem “Modesty” in Vallum 12:2.
1. Sandra Ridley, Silvija (Book Thug, 2016): dark, incantatory, potent & important work.
2. Adele Barclay (having first read a poem of hers in The Fiddlehead, then more online & finally in her first trade book: If I Were In A Cage I’d Reach Out for You (Nightwood Editions, 2016); another answer: Montreal as a hotbed of luscious & brilliant poets.
3. Write bad ass poems to try and help yourself & others cope with/distract yourself from the pending doom many of us feel now that we’re in a post-truth, post-compassion era. Make art & publish the art of outsiders. Let the inside eat its own tail.
Amanda Earl is working on a poetry manuscript entitled Grace: city poems under the influence of Barnes, Buckley, Cixous, Jacobs, the seasons, melancholy & gin. More info: AmandaEarl.com & on Twitter: @KikiFolle. See Amanda’s poem “Bedlam Spring” in Vallum 13:2.
1. Big shout-out to Robyn Sarah and her GG award-winning book My Shoes Are Killing Me.
2. Not a book, but indubitably poetry nonetheless: Jane Siberry’s CD Ulysses’ Purse. She is absolutely a poet, and these gorgeously accompanied sung-poems slow my breath and my heartbeat, induce a space of peace and calm.
3. Advice?? Well that feels audacious. About poetry, or just period? I feel inclined to want to put out there some nebulous, but fervent notions about Love and Oneness and Being in the Now, all substantially unhelpful “advice” indeed, so I’ll just say… Remember this paradox: everything matters, and none of it matters. It’s true.
Also, one further wisp of advice: check out the 2014 Cormorant release Looking East Over My Shoulder, by Jill Jorgenson. See Jill’s poem “Spit” in Vallum 12:2.
Richard Kelly Kemick
1. Michael Prior’s Model Disciple.
2. I read Anne Carson’s The Beauty of the Husband for the FIRST TIME. Yes, I know––I’m a bit late to the party. But you know what, this Carson person isn’t half bad. I think she could really go places.
3. I’ve recently admitted that I like white wine better than red wine. I have a suspicion that everyone feels this way but “society” is keeping us down. My advice is to embrace white wine and admit it is, at the end of the day, the far better choice.
Richard Kelly Kemick‘s Caribou Run is out now on icehouse press. See Richard’s poem “Ode to What is Left Behind” in Vallum 10:2.
1. Shane Neilson’s Meniscus (2009).
I admit, I liked the way the paper felt in my hands, but I also enjoyed the poems that explored sickness/healing. I’m a New Brunswick boy, too, like Neilson, and I was happy to see some allusions to Alden Nowlan–one of my favorite Atlantic Canadian poets.
2. Matt Robinson (from Halifax, NS). He’s quickly become one of my favourites. I got hooked by the title poem of the chapbook a fist made and then un-made (2013), and am happy to see he’s got a new collection out.
3. No. I’m always looking for wisdom, really, enjoying each new book as a new horizon, a new world–like Prospero says to Miranda in The Tempest: “‘Tis new to thee.”
Adam Lawrence‘s writing has appeared in Quills Canadian Poetry Magazine, Salon, Vallum, and JSTOR Daily. See Adam’s poem “The Wish” in Vallum 13:1.
1. And With Thy Spirit by April Bulmer (Hidden Book Press, 2016). I have not read April’s work for many decades. Her latest book of poetry is an exploration of spirituality. This book is the work of a mature artist who knows her métier, who is gifted in her telling and brave with honesty.
2. physical by Andrew McMillan (Cape Poetry, 2015). A birthday gift and a wonderful one. He is a British poet of whom I was not aware. His work is a powerful voice speaking about gay male love.
even this page is white by Vivek Shraya (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2016). An important book even though I found it at times more polemic than poetic. The layout, which also conveys the central idea, is fantastic. What she says needs to be heard and considered.
3. A centuries old Shakespearean one – “To thine own self be true.” Keep on writing poetry in your own voice despite what others may say. Susan Glickman had an interesting post on Facebook – “accessible was now considered proof of insufficient artistry”. I have been thinking a lot about that since. In each generation, there are dominate poetic styles and each generation has the tendency to see the previous one’s as no longer relevant. Surely in the Canadian poetry scene, there is space for multiple voices and styles. All should be allowed to speak and given their due.
Blaine Marchand is currently working on two poetry manuscripts, Where You Dwell and My Head Filled With Pakistan, and a short story collection, Nomads. See Blaine’s poems “The Cracking of Foundations” and “The Stealth of Snow” in Vallum 13:1.
1. Moez Surani’s Operations, a book-length poem that lists the names of military operations, truly underlines the power held by individual words. Since reading Operations, I’ve tried to be more precise in my use of language both in poetry and in everyday life.
2. I spent much of November reading the collected Lydia Davis, often holding in tears or laughter as I rode the bus to work.
3. It is more important than ever to read diverse books!
Cassidy McFadzean has new poems coming out in PRISM International, The Humber Literary Review, and Numéro Cinq. See Cassidy’s poem “American Harpy” in Vallum 13:2.
1. Jan Zwicky’s String Practice, Vallum chapbook. And Nox by Anne Carson.
2. Kelly Norah Drukker’s, Small Fires, published with McGill-Queen’s University Press
3. “Even if a line was brilliant and beautiful, if it’s not furthering the thrust and life of the poem, it needs to be cut.” –Ada Limón
Ilona Martonfi, author of The Snow Kimono, (Inanna Publications, 2015). Forthcoming, Salt Bride, (Inanna Publications, Spring 2019). See Ilona’s poem “Dandelion Snow” in Vallum 11:1.
Ruth Roach Pierson
1. Edward Hirsch, Gabriel: A Poem (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014).
2. Olena Kalytiak Davis, The Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2014); shattered sonnets love cards and other off and back handed importunities (Copper Canyon Press, 2003/2014); And Her Soul Our of Nothing (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1997).
3. Remember that poetry is solace for the soul, a powerful antidote to the madness of the politics that gives politics a bad name.
“I had the pleasure of reading poems with Maureen Hynes and John Reibetanz at an event sponsored by Larry Robin’s Moonstone Arts Centre in Philadelphia on September 30 and with a large group of Canadian poets at the Bowery Poetry Club in NYC on October 9 and launching my second chapbook, Untranslatable Thought (Anstruther Press, 2016), at the Abbozzo Gallery in Toronto on October 15.” See Ruth’s poem “A Newfoundland Chimera” in Vallum 13:1.
Michael J. Shepley
1. For 2016, my unearthing in a clean up of the Billy Collins collection called Picnic, Lightning. I bought it with intent a couple years ago. Since I subtitled one of my efforts “after the style of B. Collins,” in that I had heard a couple of his humorous poems read on Prairie Home Companion, I decided to dig in. I liked the material, smooth as good whisky. But I have to elide that subtitle. He has humor, but Jazz and nature and, I’d say, a bit of melancholy are closer to his soul.
2. I read a good many poems, from little publications, to the New Yorker‘s, and the Poem A Day series. I am afraid I have an “existential” attention span. Like almost in one ear, out the other after a short pause. Though that word figure does not translate well to reading…
But a recent Poem A Day has me intending to dig up some William Carlos Williams because of the lines “a liquid moon/moves gently among/the long branches” and “the wise trees/stand sleeping/in the cold” since I like nature and season poems. (But I might have dumped cold for snows…don’t we all play the editor game?)
3. Like Mr. Natural- keep on truckin’ (I actually know a guy, Martin, who was a neighbor of the cartoonist R. Crumb when the guy fled the Bay Area for the bucolic life around Winters, CA. In fact I have met a couple older folk who claim to have played in Crumbs Rock band once upon a time. But old 60s gen memories are based in bent chops, so… I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting the legend). The old phrase can be interpreted as keep working it. Like, for writing, do everyday, then repeat .
Since late 2014, Michael J. Shepley has had poems in print at CA Quarterly, Muse International, and Seems, and online at Danse Macabre, Penumbra, Xanadu, and Pinyon. See Michael’s poem “November’s End” in Vallum 13:2.
1. I’ve read too many fine books this year to be able to specify a favourite. But I recently finished an anthology that I can recommend highly: Dark Mountain 10, “Uncivilized Poetics”.
2. The anthology contains an essay by American poet Rob Lewis called “No Nature Poems, Please”; it did indeed make me sit up and take notice.
3. Deepen your love for the earth. As Mr. Lewis says, “Nature, slowly collapsing into silence, calls out louder than ever for the poet. Now we all need what the poet brings: the broken-open hearts of words, the wild articulation, the howl.”
Jan Zwicky’s most recent collection is The Long Walk. See an excerpt from Jan’s chapbook, String Theory, in Vallum 13:2.
John Sibley Williams
1. 2016 really was an incredible year for poetry, and I’d be hard pressed to label one book (or even ten) as my favourite. But a few of my favourites have been Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Sjohnna McCray’s Rapture, Jamaal May’s The Big Book of Exit Strategies, and Francine J. Harris’ Play Dead.
2. Definitely Keith Leonard’s debut collection Ramshackle Ode. Somehow this powerful book hasn’t made it to any “Best of 2016” lists I’ve seen. Though it just came out earlier this year, I’ve already read it twice.
3. Instead of advice or wisdom, how about a plea? The creative, free thinking, and open-hearted aspects of American culture are under political attack by certain figures whose rowdy bases are prepared to intimidate, censor, and harm those of us who cherish diversity, those of us who choose love over discord. So I challenge every poetry lover to spend 2017 reading collections by writers outside the traditional white-male-straight hierarchy. Read Middle Eastern poets, African poets, South American poets. Read poets representing the many indigenous tribes in the US and Canada. Read émigré poets. LGBTQ poets. Activist poets. 2017 will be a pivotal year for us all, so wield your love of poetry as a weapon against those who seek to divide us.
John Sibley Williams‘ most recent collection, Disinheritance (Apprentice House Press, 2016) is “A lyrical, philosophical, and tender exploration of the various voices of grief, including those of the broken, the healing, the son-become-father, and the dead. Disinheritance acknowledges loss while celebrating the uncertainty of a world in constant revision.” See John’s poem “It Was the Golden Age of Monsters” in Vallum 13:1.
A huge thanks and Happy New Year to all our readers and our contributors.
And be sure to check out Poem of the Week for 52 of our favourite poems this year.
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