Thursday 24 December 2009

What I liked in 2009

Friends have been busting my chops to make public my favourite Canadian poetry of 2009. Since I've always had a weakness for bad advice, I’ve gone ahead and nailed my colours to the mast (if you're impatient, skip down the end).

To be frank, this sort of best-of exercise always leaves me in some distress because I have to overlook the books I feel strongest about, namely the titles I shepherd into print for Vehicule press. In 2009, those would be: Pure Product by Jason Guriel, Animals of My Own Kind by Harry Thurston and Boxing the Compass by Richard Greene. Each of these poets, while plainly unpigeonholeable, exemplify in their practice the values I’ve been trying to “brand” at Signal Editions: poetry that has a premium on intellectual idiosyncrasy, is technically mettlesome, brandishes an exacting sense of diction (but also allows for moments when that diction takes leave of its senses), and is bullshit-free.

So those three books, heartbreakingly, aren't on my list. Also missing are a couple of formidable collections whose only sin is that I guest-edited them: Figuring Ground by Robert Moore (Wolsak & Wynne) and Trace and Track by Zach Wells (Biblioasis).

So what's left? A list rich in authentic, affecting, well-rounded, unposturing poetry. What drew me to these ten books, however, wasn't their Goldilocks proportionality (not too hot, not too cold, just right) but that they were working at full poetic boil. They were also -- except, of course, for Rogers -- arresting advances on the respective poet’s prior books (especially Klassen who emerged as a far more exciting poet than I remember). In fact, I feel like our entire poetry scene has, over the last decade, teleported itself into a new level of ambition, with poets now sniffing out property values at the top of Parnassus (a topic I touched on here). We are becoming what Charles Simic -- in his essay “The Trouble with Poetry” -- called “a carnival of styles,” or poetry “that has the feel of cable televison with more than three hundred channels.”

Enough palavering. Here are the ten books I think 2009 might be remembered by.

Jane Again (Biblioasis), Wayne Clifford
Lean-to (Gaspereau), Tonja Gunvaldsen Klassen
Meniscus (Bibloasis), Shane Neilson
True Concessions (Goose Lane), Craig Poile
Paper Radio (ECW), Damian Rogers
Pause for Breath (Biblioasis), Robyn Sarah
Pigeon (Anansi), Karen Solie
Seaway: New and Selected Poems (Salmon Publishing), Todd Swift
The Hayflick Limit (Coach House), Matthew Tierney
Mole (Anansi), Patrick Warner

Honourable mention: Oneiric (Frog Hollow Press), Nyla Matuk

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