14 Favourite Poetry Books from 2014


I read more than a hundred poetry books this year, the majority of them published in 2014—a substantial pool from which to draw my year-end list of favourites. Of course, that’s still only a fraction of the poetry books published in 2014, so there will be wonderful books that are not on my list simply because I haven’t read them yet (much good reading to look forward to still!). But of those I have read, what secures a book a spot on my list of favourites? I like to be surprised, to be challenged. I like poems with emotional force that comes not just from content but from the way form illuminates content. I like poems that keep my brain working long after I’ve closed the book. I like poems that I feel compelled to reread, that yield new things upon rereading. I like books of poems that range in form. I can be wowed by pared down precision, but mostly, these days, I think I prefer messier poems with a lot going on in them. I like poems that make me feel like writing, emboldening me to try new things in my own work. The following fourteen poetry books, listed alphabetically by author, did some or all of these things and more, contributing to a highly rewarding reading year for me.

Ken Babstock, On Malice (Coach House Books)

Dani Couture, Yaw (Mansfield Press)

Olena Kalytiak Davis, The Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems (Copper Canyon Press)

Jen Hadfield, Bysuss (Picador)

Saskia Hamilton, Corridor (Graywolf Press)

Stevie Howell, ^^^^^^ [Sharps] (Goose Lane Editions)

Saeed Jones, Prelude to Bruise (Coffee House Press)

Laura Kasischke, The Infinitesimals (Copper Canyon Press)

Douglas Kearney, Patter (Red Hen Press)

Jenny Lewis, Taking Mesopotamia (Carcanet)

Sally Wen Mao, Mad Honey Symposium (Alice James Books)

Kei Miller, The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion (Carcanet)

Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press)

Rosemary Tonks, Bedouin of the London Evening: Collected Poems (Bloodaxe Books)

What riches have I missed? Please share your own favourites in the comments section!

New Poem: Dürer’s Rhinoceros


I have a poem up at Lemon Hound titled Dürer’s Rhinoceros. It appears in a Folio devoted to the work of emerging Toronto poets, and what a pleasure and a privilege to find myself in such excellent company! It’s my first publication since making the switch from fiction to poetry, and it’s the first of my rhinoceros poems to make its way into the world. What began as a single long poem about a particular rhinoceros (not Dürer’s!) has evolved over the past year into a series of poems about many and various rhinoceroses which is now verging on a book-length manuscript. So stay tuned for more.

Douglas Kearney’s Patter


For the second time in as many weeks, I find myself completely blown away by a new book of poems. Patter, by Douglas Kearney, is stunning: difficult subjects (miscarriages, IVF, and finally fatherhood) explored from multiple angles and viscerally evoked through dazzling formal inventiveness. Here are a couple of reviews that get at much of what’s great about the book: in Monkeybicycle, and The Rumpus. And here’s the author discussing the book in an interview with the LA Review of Books:

Highly, highly recommended.

Brief Thoughts on Olena Kalytiak Davis’ The Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems


Even if I’m thinking it, I’m always reluctant to say of a book of poems that it’s utterly original. For though I’ve read a lot of poetry in recent years, I haven’t read enough over my lifetime to know for sure. But I can say unequivocally of Olena Kalytiak Davis’ The Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems that it’s like nothing I’ve ever read before. I’m still giddy a day after emerging from my first read through. Together with a few other extraordinary poetry books that I’ve had the good fortune to encounter this year, it exponentially expands my sense of what poems can be and do. And what joy to read such a book on the cusp of a bit of writing time—that brief, happy lull between the end of classes and the arrival of a mountain of exams to grade.

Poetry, Prose & Pie: HIJ #8


It was a wonderful afternoon of poetry, prose, and pie at HIJ #8 today.

The two writers who read were Adam Dickinson and Jennifer LoveGrove. Adam read from his GG-shortlisted book The Polymers, one of my favourite poetry collections of 2013. I loved the diagrams in the book that linked the poems together, and thanks to a slideshow that accompanied his reading, we were able to get some of the effect of that live. He closed by giving us a peek into his new project which is very different from The Polymers, but it too connects poetry and science in genre-bending ways and it promises to be equally fascinating. Jennifer read a short chapter from her Giller-longlisted novel Watch How We Walk, then followed up by treating us to a selection of new work including some very powerful poems from a series that grapples with the effects of mental illness.

And the excellent readings aren’t the end of it. Those in attendance have the option of taking some of the work home in the form of the HIJ journal, an envelope containing two small, limited-edition chapbooks, one devoted to each of the featured writers.

The quality of the work presented and the lovely memento of the journal are not the only things that make the HIJ series special. Hazel and Jay MillAr (of BookThug fame) host the series in their home with enormous warmth and generosity, creating an atmosphere in which even a shy, taciturn person like me can be found before long chatting happily with strangers. And did I mention the pie? Delicious pie of various sorts, the selection dictated in part by the requests of the featured writers. This, of course, is part of the warmth and generosity. And the care that goes into homemade pie is somehow a perfect complement to the craftsmanship that goes into hand-stamped chapbooks.

It all adds up to one of the best reading series in town.

words(on)stages & (parenthetical): the zine


I’ve been getting out and about to Toronto literary events with some frequency in recent months, but last night was the first words(on)stages reading that I’ve had the pleasure of attending. It was an excellent evening–great readings by the four featured writers: Ralph Kolewe, Claire Caldwell, Saredo Mohamed, and Sandra Huber. And the event doubled as the launch of the latest issue of (parenthetical): the zine, and it was a treat to take home a copy to peruse. I’ve always appreciated the aesthetic qualities of literary objects in a vague sort of way. But I’ve been paying more attention to the details lately, with my foray into letterpress printing and my nascent plans for a micro-press project of my own. And (parenthetical) is a beautiful thing: hand-bound, beautifully designed, with a lovely textured cover, and striking illustrations throughout. The focus is on work by emerging writers and though I haven’t yet delved very far into the content, the preview offered by the contributors who read last night promises good and exciting things.