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Last Modified: April 30, 2024
Feature Image with the message " Alberta Poetry: Spring Round-Up". The background of the graphic is a collection of daisies.
Alberta Poetry: Spring Round-up

While others tackled the 30/30 challenge to write a poem every day during April, Read Alberta took on the challenge of reading all the poetry collections published in Alberta this spring. As we close out poetry month, we look back at what Alberta publishers have produced, and remind ourselves of the important work they do in continuing to publish poetry.

The first poem in Catherine Owen’s Moving to Delilah (Freehand Books) notes how unaffordable houses have become, and how this can force young people into migration. As readers experience the journey to and into this house Owen calls Delilah, they are confronted with ghosts both past and present. Catherine Owen is certainly one of the finest contemporary lyricists in Canada and these deeply personal poems are as much explorations of grief as they are testaments to the desire for rootedness and belonging and an at times searing indictment of the world we live in.

Grief also frames Callista Markotich’s Wrap in a Big White Towel (Frontenac House). In these finely crafted poems, Markotich celebrates the lives of siblings and parents — while the absence of these loved ones is deeply felt, she chooses to remember shared joys. Throughout, what remains is how the memory of loved ones continue to shape everyday observations and experiences.

It is appropriate that Margaret Christakos starts That Audible Slippage (University of Alberta Press) with a quote from John Cage, whose work experiments with the possibilities inherent in sound and listening, for sound dominates in these poems; or, as is often the case, the absence of sound. As you follow the sway of the lines, you are always aware of breath, and breath’s interconnectedness with sound. That Audible Slippage is a deeply theorized collection that looks also at other absences—of memory, of loved ones, or of social interactions during the pandemic.

In Limited Verse (University of Calgary Press), David Martin tells a speculative tale about the time when English has been reduced to a mere 850 words. In that distant time, two scholars discover a book of poems, reworkings of canonical poems from a time when words abounded. These clever poems require close reading and frequent returns to the originals which, thankfully, are still extant.

The opening line of The Loom (University of Calgary Press) offers a clear indication of Andy Weaver’s strategies in this collection—poems dart easily from classical literary references to contemporary pop music. While the overall premise is an exploration of parenting, the book is replete with references to now largely forgotten or wilfully sidelined names and events that frame both modern childhood and the task of raising children in a world gone awry: Matthew Shepard, Rehtah Parsons, the many unnamed and missing who lie buried …. Weaver’s astute observations on contemporary politics and his insistence on remembering and uncovering the past, combined with his unerring poetics, all make for compelling reading.

Northerny (University of Alberta Press) is a tale of growing up in the North. At times irreverent, and always told with a glint in the eye and lightning-quick word-play, these poems offer a stark view of the reality of living in a place that is too often romanticized.

Wakefield Brewster’s WAKEword (Frontenac House) is a refreshingly honest collection. Brewster speaks his mind clearly and with compassion and humility, turning poetry into an instrument for healing. Time and again readers are reminded that here are many Canadian Englishes and left to revel in the words.

Tom Wayman writes from within the landscape rather than about it: How Can You Live Here? (Frontenac House) is shaped by the winter winds and the poet’s close observation of his surroundings. They demand that the reader listens, and listens carefully, to the ideas and the ideals winnowed from stars and ice.

Whether your predilection is for experimental poetry or for more conventional forms, there is plenty in these collections to take with you into the summer. Enjoy the emerging Spring and purchase copies form you favourite local bookstore (remember, in April we also celebrated Canadian Independent Bookstore Day).