One of my goals this year was to read more poetry collections. For the longest time, my first introduction to the realm of poetry was a youtube video of Olivia Gatwood performing spoken word. After that it, it was streams of Sylvia Plath mixed with fragments of Sappho, creating a very limited outlook on the subject.
Truthfully, I never really liked poetry until an assignment came up at the Algonquin College Professional Writing department, where students were given the choice of working on ten pages of poetry, or opting for writing a story for children. That was where I began to earnestly enjoy the experience of writing poetry, which has led me to different places since.
If you’re looking for some end of year reading material, or even a fresh start to a New Year (hopefully followed by better days), here is a selection of the most stand out pieces to hopefully include in your reading list.
Junebat, by John Elizabeth Stintzi, was one of the standout books I read this year. Featuring the odyssey of coming to terms with gender identity, they manage to fluidly weave in elements of urban spaces, relationships, and sheer exploration.
The poetry collection as a whole doesn’t falter. It starts off with a piece titled “Origa/Me” that shuffled sheer power within the backdrop of folded pages, beginning the journey exquisitely. The closing line “I’m not sure I can fold my life any smaller than this” sets the tone, which strengthens later pieces like “Half-Bopp” and “Apophatic Junebat”.
The book is lovingly arranged within three sections. Wing precedes Body, before ending with a secondary wing, neatly rounding off the collection. I highly recommend this particular selection of Stintzi.
Domenica Martinello spreads out an arrangement of pieces ranging from mythical sirens to Starbucks promotional material. As a former barista for the Seattle based behemoth, her writing certainly strikes home. All Day I Dream About Sirens glides smoothly from bodies, lyrical fragments, geographies, and histories.
What truly makes this collection of poetry stand out is the series of notes at the back of the book. Without them, writing simply flows with a unique rhythm, rounded out with visible references to other elements, like Homer. But, the notes is what transforms each piece, neatly relating it to concepts like redrafted logos, references to other writers or styles, Twitter threads, and even a relation to pop cultural sensation Game of Thrones.
Martinello creates a masterpiece within itself, leaving no room for anything less than perfection. Favourite poems include “O, Morning Commuter”, “Cattle of the Sun”, “Summer in Capri”, and “Parthenope and Virgil”.
If Men, Then is an extraordinary mixing pot of politics and myths, searching for the connection to war. Eliza Griswold is known for her nonfiction writing, which certainly lends itself to this book of poetry.
Immigration and refugees have always been a sensitive topic, especially in countries blinkered by prejudices and violent racial histories. Griswold has the distinct advantage of using her skills as a reporter by combining fact in lyric. Her perspective picks up swiftly from the first few lines of her book, “What can we offer the child at the border: a river of shoes, her coat stitched with coins, her father killed for his teeth, her mother, sewing her daughter’s future into a hem”.
This is a fantastic book to pick up to explore political components within writing, while also keenly evaluating the cost of the body, or many bodies.
Recently published Watch Your Head was done as a curated collection of responses to the climate crisis. While it features a series of art, photography, and writing such as essays, it is heavily influenced by poetry.
Beginning from a protest, it developed into a website before shifting into a physical book anthology. Watch Your Head extends itself into cautionary awareness while keenly educating the cost of the ongoing climate crisis. There is a darkness, lingering within the edges of this book, but it is lightened by pieces of hope, and the possibilities of a future.
Each contributor has a unique perspective on the environment, and their own personal landscape. Fragments emerge out of the text, like the hope of sold out tofu in grocery stores, the consumerism demand justifying chemical skies, challenges of reform and corrupt mindsets, discarded protest signs, extravagant wastage, and also the struggle for low income bracket members of society.
There is often a price for everything, and the price is never paid evenly. This anthology navigates the differences between corporations that pay off environmental damages for sake of higher revenue, while it is the regular person living beneath it all.
Favorite pieces include “Snapshot”, “Reclaiming Our Names”, “how to survive in a time of great urgency”, “Safety Net”, “Lessons from Prison: Shackled Pipeline Protestor”, and “The Poplar Vote”. Proceeds from Watch Your Head are donated to RAVEN and Climate Justice Toronto.
I have always been a fan of Margaret Atwood since I first read Alias Grace one summer. After that, I consumed her other books like Lady Oracle and The Blind Assassin in rapid succession, infatuated.
It wasn’t until her newer releases that I began to feel disappointment. Gone was the devastating histories and lyric. Her voice had grown clinical, different from the old descriptions of rural Canada. They were satisfying, but no longer on the same playing field of her older novels, firmly entrenched in their own kind of mythology.
However, with her first collection of poetry in over a decade, Atwood truly nails the state of decay within her titled, Dearly.
It suits her, being freed from fiction. Instead of clinging to the subject as she had in recent published works, she is able to consume and discard subject at free will. Zombies, cats, coconuts, and mushrooms all have a place within Dearly. Each poem forms a unique note, easily layering across the pages.
One of the highlights of this collection was the title piece, “Dearly”. Placed neatly near the end, Atwood explores to shifting of words and modern language. How do we explain outdated technology like polaroids when cameras exist via phones? We have collected so many elements of the past, like floppy disk symbols for saving documents on a computer, or even expressions of hanging up a phone.
Truly, this was a really great series of poetry to end the year with. If you’re a fan of Atwood, Dearly will certainly fill the void.
If you’re looking to shop for bookish needs, consider possibly using a small bookstore for your needs. So many different stores have evolved to meet the new directions of the pandemic, featuring new products like subscriptions, online book clubs, wine-and-book pairings, and others.
Check out Knife Fork Book, Canada’s only all poetry bookstore. Located in Toronto, they have an amazing collection and community of work.