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Lorna Crozier (Editor)'s 2010 Best Canadian Poetry In English

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Lorna Crozier (Editor), 2010 Best Canadian Poetry In English
Toronto: Tightrope Books, 2010 (Molly Peacock, Series Editor)

Poems ‘for all who are curious’

It can be hard to know how to approach an anthol­ogy of this nature. Tuck your ques­tion marks into your pocket and just read, hoping—as you do with every new poetry book—to be shown a poem that might illu­mi­nate the dark lit­tle cor­ners of your life? Pre­tend you don’t real­ize that the edi­tors of this vol­ume are unavoid­ably also in the busi­ness of canon-mak­ing? Most poetry col­lec­tions nec­es­sar­ily direct your atten­tion to what’s included, but it’s hard to crack the spine of this one with­out mus­ing as to what may not have been included.

Included: a sat­is­fy­ing amuse-bouche sam­pling of some of Canada’s most active and cel­e­brated con­tem­po­rary poets: Ken Bab­stock, Anne Comp­ton, Barry Demp­ster, Don Doman­ski, Sue Goyette, Stephen Heighton, Son­net L’Abbé, Eve­lyn Lau, Ross Leckie, Cather­ine Owen, Peter Sanger, Robyn Sarah, David Sey­mour, Karen Solie, Zachariah Wells, Patri­cia Young, Jan Zwicky. How’s that for a tast­ing menu?

Stephen Heighton’s ode “Some Other Just Ones” has made the social media rounds as a read­ing he gave at The Banff Cen­tre for the Arts in 2010. The poem gives a nod to its poetic ances­tors in “a foot­note to Borges,” though it also can per­haps trace a thread through Neruda in one sense, and through New Brunswick’s Her­ménégilde Chi­as­son in another. In the best tra­di­tion of love poetry, Heighton’s “Some Other Ones” is excep­tion­ally well-read.

Other sig­nif­i­cant bright spots: Zachariah Wells sings a son­net to the lyre­bird, Mau­reen Hynes eulo­gizes her last cig­a­rette, Mar­i­lyn Gear Pilling repu­di­ates Billy Collins, Cather­ine Owen buys an ice­berg, Paul Tyler pushes back against the impu­dent Man­i­toba maple, Nick Thran calls out Spring, and Ross Leckie rea­sons with what we can actu­ally know. Leckie’s poem, “The Cri­tique of Pure Rea­son,” is my vote for Best of the Best Cana­dian Poetry, for its sub­lime meld of the glit­ter­ing exter­nal world with the con­stant churn­ing of the human quest to really know what it is we know.

What it does—providing an acces­si­ble overview what some Cana­dian poets were pub­lish­ing in lit­er­ary jour­nals in 2010—this col­lec­tion does well. If it reads at times as a bit heavy on the lyric, one can equally point to a vari­ety of for­mal choices, from the son­net through to the prose poem, though not to any­thing more exper­i­men­tal or avant-garde. Per­haps that isn’t nec­es­sary. In the intro­duc­tion, series edi­tor Molly Pea­cock is clear about where the annual col­lec­tion is aimed. It is cre­ated “for all who are curi­ous about Cana­dian poetry but need a place for such curios­ity to begin,” and she hap­pily notes that pre­vi­ous vol­umes have been found in liv­ing rooms and wait­ing rooms across the coun­try.

The Best Cana­dian Poetry in Eng­lish is not nec­es­sar­ily intended, there­fore, to delight the mem­bers of that small audi­ence who may have read the poems when they first appeared in lit­er­ary jour­nals such as Des­cant, Prairie Fire, or indeed Arc Poetry Mag­a­zine, and there­fore arguably not intended for this reviewer or those inclined to read this review. As an intro­duc­tion to Cana­dian poetry, the col­lec­tion is heav­ily weighted towards that fuzzy tar­get of “acces­si­bil­ity.”  In this respect—teasing the appetite for poetry and hope­fully send­ing peo­ple run­ning to their book­stores, libraries or pod­casts for more—it does seem to achieve its stated vision. Would that we could say the same of all books of poetry pub­lished in a year.

One quib­ble: a sec­tion fol­low­ing the poems, called “Poem Notes and Com­men­taries,” comes per­ilously close to ruin­ing the read­ing expe­ri­ence by per­mit­ting poets to add addi­tional thoughts about the gen­e­sis of, or their approach to, their selected poems. In sec­tions of this kind, if they must be included at all, brevity is best: Anne Comp­ton, Glen Downie, and Anne-Marie Turza give some of the best exam­ples of how to illu­mi­nate a poem in this way. Fifty poems were included in the Best of 2010: cut­ting this sec­tion down, or out entirely, might make room for another ten.

The series has a dif­fer­ent edi­tor each year. I con­fess that my own aes­thetic runs snugly along­side Crozier’s, so I enjoyed this col­lec­tion immensely, return­ing to it sev­eral times and pho­to­copy­ing one or two poems for a cov­eted place on my fridge (thank you Ross Leckie, Paul Tyler). At the same time, an anthol­ogy that calls itself the “Best of Cana­dian Poetry in Eng­lish” can­not escape the real­ity that it is, in effect, con­tribut­ing to what we love/hate to call “The Cana­dian Canon.”  For this rea­son, a wide vari­ety in choice among the annual edi­tors will make for the broad­est pos­si­ble sur­vey over time, and could even­tu­ally ele­vate the series beyond func­tion­ing merely as a tast­ing menu a year to the sump­tu­ous feast of a decade.

 

Rhonda Dou­glas serves on the Arc edi­to­r­ial board. She has not won any prizes her par­ents would rec­og­nize.

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