Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Constellations of Connection: Best-of-2014

My second book of poetry, Stowaways, was published by Palimpsest Press this year and so I find myself approaching the year-end Best-of-2014 lists with some trepidation.

What if my book doesn't get Best-ed? Does that mean my work isn't worthy? Does it mean I'm not worthy?

 Instead of following this rage/shame spiral down (down/down/down), I've decided to create my own Best-of-2014 list, but this one will do something a little different, in that it will be composed of the books by writers who prop me up, who support me, who form my diffuse but essential community.

I'm a working writer. These are working writers. And we all, I think, write out of community.

So this isn't about belonging to a particular school of writing, or living in a particular place: it's about the constellations of connection, the interstitial bits between writers that help make books possible.

And I'm proud of all of these writers. So I wanted to talk about them.

* * *

Winnipeg writer Alison Calder is everything you want in a poet/prof. In her second collection, In the Tiger Park (Coteau Books) she thinks and feels her way through poems that are all about place, this place, but also find themselves in China and Germany and basking under the light of a perverse moon. ("Fuck off, moon! Get out of my poems / Every time I look up / a word, the dictionary says see moon.") She's also a member of my writing group, the Plastered Hams. And I appreciate her good eyes on my poems every goddamn time. Also, her wry commentary on the writing life is nearly as good as the cookies/cake/slanket we make sure to have at meetings.

Edmonton writer Shawna Lemay is a peach. She creates such a fragile beauty in her work and in her life, publishing poetry, creative non-fiction, and experimental fiction, taking photos, and curating the Canadian Poetries site. I haven't spent much in-person time with Shawna, but everything about her writing and her life tells me that she's a kindred spirit and THAT'S what makes her a fully-fledged member of my cadre. I fell in love with Shawna's book of essays Calm Things, and Asking (Seraphim Editions) advances those ideas in ways that are, well, illuminating.

In the busily anxious year leading up to the release of our books with Palimpsest Press, Victoria writer Yvonne Blomer and I chatted nearly every day. It helped immensely. IMMENSELY. Yvonne is sweet & calm on the one hand and smart & ambitious on the other. She's the antidote to self-pity and the best commiserator you'll ever find. When not writing, Yvonne teaches creative writing and has been the driving force behind Planet Earth Poetry, the weekly open mic series in Victoria. But the  poems in As if a Raven (Palimpsest Press). Oh! The poems! Playful and serious and smart.

Regina writer Tracy Hamon has been run off her feet the last few years, helping to organize the active Saskatchewan literary community. We met years via northern SK poet Brenda Schmidt and since that time we've toured the prairies together in various frocks. I could drive to Tracy's house in my sleep. Tracy's latest collection, Red Curls (Thistledown Press), uses ekphrasis and voice poems to talk about art-making, love, and desire...

Edmonton writer Ella Zeltserman and I have been writing back and forth for months but when we met for tea in Toronto this fall, we recognized each other in our talk about writing poetry and, also, creating community around it. (We also talked about preserving pears, which is a bit of a thing with me...) In her debut, small things left behind (University of Alberta Press) Ella writes about her Jewish family's history in Russia, about emigrating to Canada, about home. And the poems are illuminated with the Ella's irrepressible energy, her enthusiasm for the world.

I met Prince George writer Gillian Wigmore at the Banff Centre ten years ago. When we needed a break from poetry/writing/talk, she would pull out a guitar and start to sing. And, somehow, that aaaaaaaaaah feeling has persisted in the years since. She has been writing heaps the last few years, despite full-time work and children and the poems in orient (Brick Books), her third collection, is earthy and rich, always skimming close to the bone.

I included my book in this list because I couldn't help myself. Ahem

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