I post the 2016 reads on twitter (@pesbo).
I used to heavily hyperlink the summary posts but that add 3x the time. Maybe links mean that publishers and writers can more readily find mention of what they sent into the world. Or maybe trackback isn’t common as it used to be.
This much I can say for sure, I’m a grumpier reader this year. I started a lot of books that I threw over saying life is too short. Or I’m not in a place to hear. Or I’ve listened too long and am getting nothing but frustrated.
I’ve read 63% Canadian and 8% chapbook. 58% poetry, which is higher than I’d guess. 1/4 of writers are POC and 17% GLTBQQ. So far my CWILA-style number show 46% male, 29% female, 24% multiple or non-binary. My history reach is 46% published this year or last. For genres not-poetry it’s pretty even among memoir, science, novels and history. I read about 3500 pages of completed books, or about 65 pages per day on average, although reading clusters on Sundays.
That said, these read:
- A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge of Grizzly Trail by Jenna Butler (Wolsak & Wynn, 2015) This was a book we thoroughly enjoyed. I read it silently once and entirely aloud with hubby for a second read. We love the idea of off-grid sustainable farming, although the prospect of land clearing and mosquitoes and second jobs for the privilege and joy of getting to be in a forest some of the time is daunting. It reignited my desire to vermicompost. She has such light and beauty in her passages, love coming through in a way that it transmits more commonly in music.
- Failed Haiku edited by Mike Rehling, (issue 1, 2016) This is how to simply get poems out into the world. Gather what tickles, pop them in a file, save as pdf and post. We often get carried away with design and forget about the centrality of the message. It isn’t all medium, McLuhan. The senryu are often in comic digs. Enjoyable issue.
- A Splash of Water: Haiku Society of America Member Anthology 2015 (HNA, 2015). I’m in this issue so got a copy. It sounds dangerous to theme on water. Surely you will hate the sound of the word before too many pages but it was pretty deftly done, covering all the water cycle and all tones of poems.
- This Day Full of Promise: Poems selected and new by Michael Dennis (Broken Jaw, 2001) I’ve had this book a while and I think I should add notations to the inside cover like I do with recipes to note each time it’s used. I think it’s my third read. Hockey, tv, music, lovers, work, family in plain language.
- poems for jessica-flynn by Michael Dennis (not one cent of subsidy press, 1986) These poems were composed in a bookstore window. This book I’ve had a while and it wasn’t until meeting the bookstore owner that I got curious to look at it again. One of my first memories of Ottawa was rob mclennan sitting in a bookstore window composing although I didn’t realize until now that he was doing it as a nod to Michael Dennis. The concrete poetry surprised me. A zen exercise in capturing the moment as it happens. “people being captured for all time/brief moments of their lives/captured forever/posterity coming to them/without choice”
- Whiskey Jack by Milton Acorn (HMS, 1986). A CanPo classic book I’ve heard talk of but never actually read. It struck me that some were strong. What does one say, uneven? The pacing probably isn’t what one writing now would do. His bird poems struck me as the most moving in the book.
- Debbie: An Epic by Lisa Robertson (A New Star Book, 1997). Another CanPo classic that I feel I should read since so many talk so highly of it. People who like it like it a lot. I was taken by the way the page design is breaking from its confines. What it does with typography makes me energized. The language is caught up in the delight of making language so heady or of-the-head. The poems rail against the long dead for dismissing and omitting women instead of making something new in a parallel culture that goes toe-to-toe. It seems what Virginia Woolf said is true of women being stuck away from sublime because of the defensive position of being treated unequally and assailed.
- Tells of the Crackling by Hoa Nguyen (Ugly Duckling Press, 2015) The curious thing about this text is how subjective it was that I could enter. In a buoyant mood I couldn’t hear it. When I was in brooding doldrums it all made sense. It is jumping and jittering, leaping, nervous and angry.
- Said like reeds or things by Mark Truscott (Coach House, 2004) I seem to keep bring this back as exemplar of good poetry. I’ve done that in at least 4 workshops. Carefully constructed minimalism
- The Best Canadian Poetry 2015, edited by Jacob McArthur Mooney (Tightrope, 2015) A survey of what’s going on. CanPo snapshot for the year. It doesn’t vary by sub-genre as much as last year and I’m still holding out for an edition where a tanka or haiku makes the cut but this is a solid collection with strong poems by a wide range of poets in style and tone. Lucas Crawford’s tribute to Rita MacNeil was moving and I never followed her music. Marcus McCann’s could not be more different in style but also captures a time and place. Lesley Battler scrapes technotalk about oil industry. Tanis Macdonald’s poem on lineage of women who don’t bear children tickles a different part of the brain.
- The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester (Oxford University Press, 2003) This was a fascinating account of the arduous making of the project. Tiny sheets of paper and thousands of people spending decades to put this thing together, trace a word to its earliest citation. I suppose you could say it had an outcome and changed my behaviour since I installed the OED on my phone, replacing dictionary.com
- Why We Write: Conversations With African Canadian Poets and Novelists, edited by H Nigel Thomas (TZAR, 2006) This set of interviews was done by a sheet of questions exchanged for the answers I assume since replies left things dangling and not picked up on. That said, they also feel like friendly conversation. One of the most memorable was a novelist who was called from off-continent by mom who twisted an ear over the miles to say how dare you say your mother is a cleaner? The publisher insisted on calling it a biography while the writer contended it was a novel.
- The Beggar’s Opera by Peggy Blair (Penguine, 2012) I’m reading all her novels now. Funny, first time I saw her read at Writers Fest I didn’t like it. Saw her read a year or so later at an authors in bookstore day and was struck by how incisively written it was. Then came across one book and sought out them all. Next one in the 4 part series comes out in April. The series has heavy subjects, child abuse, tainted water, pornography rings, poverty, murder, various religions and ghosts and yet it feels manageable and that there are also people resolved to correct such problems.
- PCB Jam by Lynne Kositsky (Unfinished Monument Press, 1981) A chapbook of poems from someone who since became a novelist, the poems talk about fruit picking labourers and inside difficult class lines.
- Talking Into the Ear of A Donkey: Poems Robert By Bly (WW Norton & Co, 2011) These poems are like parables that seem more of the arabic tradition of poems. Not terribly exciting but not intended to be intense body-hits. They follow their own trajectory of an orderly world and plain spoken cosmic morsels.
- I’m not crazy…I’m allergic by Sherilyn Powers (Friesen Press, 2015) This book was fascinating as it doesn’t duplicate what I know. It could have been a few chapters longer. The idea that allergies may manifest not only in hives or breathing problems but emotional irregularity, depression, exhaustion or pain is a whole panel of things I hadn’t known to watch for. A whole other set of body communications of distress where I was confining, anger of mind comes from mind and muscle issues from muscles but mind-body connection means all kinds of cross-overs.
- The Goddess and the Bull: Catalhoyuk: An Archeological Journey to the Dawn of Civilization by Michael Balter (Free Press, 2005). Interesting but not at all what the title billed. A frustrating book to read because of its baggy style and choices of what to include. Reading was panning for things actually about the site. He would rather tell that an archeologist had a pony for a certain birthday, or that a woman working on site distracted archeologists [thereby writing out all the female straight archeologists]. A city that made mural and sculpture, had equal nutrition and burial for men and women, and sometimes seemingly a favoured pet is rife with interest. History or Hot-or-Not? Tic of describing whole life biography felt like an intro that never ended because so many work at the dig. More interested in personal lattices than findings. More about the dig, less about him digging a dance with young women might have been fixed in edits. It led me to other articles and sites and background reading about this fascinating time.
- The Poisononed Pawn by Peggy Blair (Penguin, 2012) Much as what I said about The Beggar’s Opera above. Except I might add what a pleasure to read a book where the protagonists are Cuban and where a main recurring character was a transgender person. The focus is on abuses of the Catholic church, not as a local thing but where the church protects its own, moving people when they get in trouble.
- Gender Failure by Rae Spoon and Ivan E Coyote (Arsenal Pulp, 2014) This book alternates two points of view as they go thru their lives from young adolescence to present, the challenges, coming of age, sense of group, sense of self, sense of humour. I have heard the book roundly praised and having read it finally, I’d have to agree. A sort of gift-book for giving away, sharing around. It allows one to hop into the daily in the tradition of good storytelling. By all means, let’s dissolve this sugar-cube cage of gender binary as the narrative of all identity and explanation of motivation of all acts.
- Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit by Andrew Moore (Chelsea Green, 2015) I read about pawpaw as a kid. It used to be all along the waterways in southern Ontario but as all over North America, it was yanked out as scrub. Somewhere between mango, custard apple and melon in taste it was probably eaten by mastadons, probably cultivated in orchards wherever the Iroquois went. This book is obsessively researched. It is following a road trip to find known people and places associated with the fruit, and travels back to the 1700s in writing references. It covers the ice age and the pushback of seeds to Florida. It goes all over the US finding people growing the tree, or collecting the seed for a genetic bank, trying to make it a commercially viable food. There’s an Ohio pawpaw festival and I might just have to go.
- Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay (University of Pittsburgh Press: Pitt Poetry Series, 2015) Having read an article or few, seen some youtube and rewatched, it’s a sign that it’s worth trying a book. I couldn’t get it in paper since at the time I checked there were none in stock, so I went with ebook. The poems are about finding a route to joy but but not by bypassing joy’s twin, grief. There are visions of community as people interacting in good humour and sharing, caretaking moments when people came together, say to walk close in a homophobic neighbourhood, but taking the risk of being fond of one another anyway. A heartening book writing with complexity and elegance. Trees and death interweave “shimmy into the pawpaw’s steeple/where my rank bloom/ tongue kissed by flies/puckers at the gorgeous world”
- The Last Maasai Warriors: an autobiography by Wilson Meikuaya and Jackson Ntirkana (Me to We Press, 2012). A find at a book sale, it is an eye-opening sort of book. Taken for granted offhandedly the 17 language groups of Maasai, the 4 or 5 wives and dozens of kids but being bewildered by the Pentecostals coming to town and the strange habits of tubes of cloth people were in. Maasai so isolated that the concept of vehicle and glass has not reached. Living 2 km from a school, but avoiding any contact with others, whether black or white, the boys grew up within the culture of herding, drinking cow milk, cow blood, sucking clotted cow’s blood and journeyed to get botany degrees and speak a few languages while maintaining their culture and coming home to farm. Before that, one teen saying we need to change starting a wave of ending female circumcision. A whole other perspective and relationship to pain as kids burn each other to teach braveness and strength.