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March 1, 2019

Climbing Shadows, by Shannon Bramer and Cindy Derby

I want to sing the praises of the kindergarten lunchtime supervisors, because it’s not often enough that people do. A job that is underpaid, under-appreciated, incompatible with most schedules, and without whom the school day could not proceed. When my eldest child was in kindergarten, her lunchtime supervisor was called Miss Vivian, and—I’m not sure if this is part is even true—all the children believed her to be a retired police officer from Jamaica. You didn’t mess with Miss Vivian, but then some people tried to, and one day my daughter told a story of a notorious boy in her class who’d pulled his pants down, which made me decide to send Miss Vivian a thank-you note for the work she did, plus a gift card for the liquor store.

Not everyone gets an LCBO gift card for being a kindergarten lunchtime supervisor, however. Poet and playwright Shannon Bramer got a collection of poetry instead, a poem for every child in the class that she’d worked with about anything they wanted. “Being a lunchtime supervisor in a kindergarten room involves container opening, orange peeling, snowsuit detangling, and mitten hunting,” she writes in her beautiful Author’s Note, and she also made it about poetry too. She shared the work of her favourite poets with the class, brought in illustrated collections to show them. “My kindies learned that poetry could make them feel and see and remember things. A poem could tell a sad story or it could make them laugh; it could make them think. A poem could be hard to understand beautiful to listen to at the same time.”

Lunch poems are not a new thing, but Bramer’s Climbing Shadows is my favourite twist on the concept yet, a collection that involved out of her collaboration with the children in the class, and which is published now by Groundwood Books with dreamy, appealing whimsical illustrations by Cindy Derby. Poems that remind me of children’s voices, their questions and preoccupations, but which also aren’t pandering and play and delight in language with the deftness of poetry intended for readers of any age. With enough familiarity to draw the reader in, but spaces between the words and lines enough to invite questions and wondering. Poems about octopuses, birthday parties, polka-dots.

“My mom is pushing the stroller/ through slush and broken ice/ and there’s lots of cold water shining/ on the street”

June 9, 2016

A Pile of Poetry


I attended the Griffin Poetry Prize readings last week, which was so much huger and more excellent and enjoyable than anything I’d ever expected. Afterwards, I couldn’t help but buy books because each of the readers had been so compelling, the poetry itself so arresting, though I congratulated myself on not buying all the books. And then in the morning I couldn’t help but go online and order just one more… Adding to the huge stack of poetry that I’ve been reading this spring, books that have been occupying my senses for a few months now. Most I’ve not motored through, but have have been making my way through slowly, not even in order sometimes. It was been such a pleasure exploring these books, their stories and their language, and while I find it difficult to write about poetry sometimes (and I actually find it difficult to *everything* about poetry sometimes) I wanted to write some of my thoughts down here.

metanoiaSharon McCartney, Metanoia: I loved McCartney’s The Love Songs of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and this new collection is something entirely different, while I loved it too. I heard McCartney read from it in March at the Biblioasis launch, and this experience brought the disparate pieces of the project together for me. This long poem connects with a trend with many books I’ve read toward fragmented pieces that blur the lines between fiction and autobiography, this one concerned with the end of a marriage and the end of a love affair, as well as various other concerns.

ScanlonCoverFINAL-2Suzanne Scanlon, Her 37th Year: An Index: I’m so grateful to Sarah’s beautiful blog post which not only introduced me to this book and inspired me to buy it, but also showed me how to read it. I’m currently midway through the alphabet, but enjoying piecing together the narratives contained within and also delighting in the sentences.

throaty-wipesSusan Holbrook, Throaty Wipes: Speaking of delight. I loved Holbrook’s previous collection so much (with its long poem about breastfeeding in particular) and have been looking forward to this one. It’s proven to be just as fun, playful, weird and enjoyable as the other. I especially loved her poem “8 ate…” with its lines (as my eldest daughter turned seven and my own 37th birthday approaches): “Who/ can remember if/ we’ve turned thirty-seven,/ maybe forty-nine already./ But she who still counts/ her age on her fingers/ curls them to individual/ numbers as to singular/ monkey bars. For a year/ she stand at the prow/ of seven, lead sharpened/ by the Swiss Army. shark fin,/ bared tooth, even as hers/ hail down.”


Soraya Peerbaye, Tell: Poems for Girlhood: was the collection I bought the day after The Griffin Readings, after listening to Peerbaye had brought tears to my eyes, with a reference to “Forever Young”, by Alphaville, no less. Read Sonnet L’Abbe’s excellent piece on Peerbaye’s collection and how it was inspired by the murder of teenager Reena Virk, and how Peerbaye underlines the racial aspects of this crime as other writers haven’t done. The book arrived in the mail on Tuesday afternoon, and that night I sat down and read it all in one go. It was amazing.

burning-in-this-midnight-dreamLouise Bernice Halfe, Burning in this Midnight Dream: I think I first learned of Halfe’s work when Lee Maracle spoke about her on The Current on First Nations writers, and women First Nations writers in particular and how so many of these are under-appreciated. Halfe’s first collection was nominated for most of the top poetry prizes in the country when it was published in 1998. This new collection is about her own experiences of Truth and Reconciliation as she writes of her experiences at residential schools and also of her own painful family history. As Paulette Regan writes in the book’s introduction: “There are many pathways to reconciliation. Poetry is one.”

let-the-empire-dpwnI’ve been looking forward to Alexandra Oliver’s new collection, Let the Empire Down, following up her award-winner Meeting the Tormenters in Safeway, which I loved. The new book doesn’t disappoint, another collection of biting, sometimes funny and usually brutal poems about modern life and its horrors and absurdity, about motherhood and daughterhood, and all the things that once were that will never be again.

careenI have loved making my way through Carolyn Smart’s collection, Careen, which reimagines the story of Bonnie and Clyde via primary sources that tell it so much less cinematic. I love the way that language can so perfectly convey the momentum of the story, its speed and all the getaways, and also all the different voices. (You can read the poem, “Proud Flesh,” here.

never-mindWe’re reading Never Mind, by Katherine Lawrence, for my book club next week. Truthfully, it’s the collection I’ve struggled with the most out of all of these, so much of the meaning rooted in language instead of story, which is how I find my way into most books. I also have an aversion to nineteenth century settler tales. Further I keep picking it up when I am tired and it makes my eyelids start to droop. It’s demanding more than I feel like giving any book at the moment—but there is goodness here too. There is humour and subversion and a powerful female voice. Look forward to delving deeper via next week’s conversation.

the-red-filesI loved Lisa Bird-Wilson’s award-winning short story collection, Just Pretending, and so have been looking forward to her debut poetry collection, The Red Files. I’m partway through it now and enjoying it so much, although enjoying isn’t quite the right word for work that’s so harrowing. In these poems, Bird-Wilson takes photographs and other records of residential schools and beautifully imagines narratives, the people behind the official history, their names and stories. She also includes notes from official records and recontextualizes these pieces in a way that’s similar to Peerbaye’s use of transcripts from criminal trials.

24457.books.origjpgI bought 40 Sonnets, by Don Paterson, right after the Griffin Readings, because he was brilliantly funny and read the poem, “Power Cut,” about being stuck in an elevator, and it was powerful and glorious—and contained a reference to a dumbwaiter. This collection also won the 2016 Costa Poetry Award. I know Peterson is more established than she is, but reading this book finally gave me context as to what Alexandra Oliver is up to—I don’t read many poets like this who utilize traditional forms and metre and rhyme. I really, really like it.

conflictConflict Resolution for Holy Beings, by Joy Harjo, was another Griffin Prize nominee, and I too bought this book after her incredible reading. Poems like “Indian Night School Blues” and “We Were There The Night Jazz was Invented.” I’m not far into this collection, but I like it a lot. You can read “Talking With the Sun” here—it’s beautiful.

jacket_medExcerpts from all the Griffin-nominated collections are contained within The 2016 Griffin Poetry Prize Anthologya most excellent keepsake. Not wholly redundant, even if I end up buying every single one of the nominated books themselves.

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