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Special Feature! We Asked Canadian Poets About their Favourite Poems for National Poetry Month

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National Poetry Month 2016

It's that time of year again, when the best possible version of spring fever hits readers across the country — National Poetry Month! It may be cold outside, but it's hot in the pages with the League of Canadian Poets' 2016 celebration of all things verse. We're thrilled to partner this year with LCP to bring a month-long focus on poetry to Open Book, kicking off today. Best of all? We got to talk to some of our favourite poets about their favourite poets! We asked talented Canadian writers to tell us about an all-time favourite poem, many of which celebrate NPM 2016's theme of "the road".


Catherine Graham on "Snow" by Louis MacNeice:

Sometimes when it comes to travelling, the theme for National Poetry Month, the road is within, the internal journey. One of my all-time favourite poems comes to mind, “Snow” by the Northern Irish poet, Louis MacNeice. There you are, sitting by the bay-window near pink roses watching the snow fall, a tangerine cupped in your hand, when suddenly you’re struck by the complexities of life. “World is crazier and more of it than we think.” As small as a tangerine pip, as large as Earth.

Poetry is an art form that embraces ambiguity. Multiple meanings beget strength, not weakness. So this April when poetry comes out of hiding and back into the spotlight, let’s revel in “the drunkenness of things being various.”

Catherine Graham is the author of Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects (Wolsak & Wynn)

James Lindsay on "An Autopsy of an Era" by Mary Jo Bang:

Mary Jo Bang's The Last Two Seconds was my favourite book of poetry last year. She walks a precarious line between sonic word play and meaning, playing with language and tone, seeing how far she can stretch it while still holding meaning. Many poets I know are trying to do this right now, but no one takes it as far as she does and "An Autopsy of an Era" is a beautiful example of this.

James Lindsay is the author of Our Inland Sea (Wolsak & Wynn)

Sandy Pool on "On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous" by Ocean Vuong:

I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favourite poem, but the poet Ocean Vuong has been killing me lately. I keep returning to this poem, “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”. Like the poetry of Robert Hass, Vuong juxtaposes long loping free-verse lines with shorter lyric fragments. However, Vuong also brings us closer to the pied beauty and pain at the heart of his poem. At times, his moves are almost cinematic. Vuong circles around notions of sensuality as a photographer would move around a subject — careful to capture not only the subject, but its shadow. What more can we ask from a poem?
Sandy Pool is the author of Undark (Nightwood Editions)

Jacob Scheier on "Penises, 1" by Libby Scheier:

I chose the poem “Penises, 1” by the late feminist poet and critic, Libby Scheier (1946-2000), who was, of course, also my mother (the poem, first published in 1986, can be found in her last book, Kaddish For My Father: New and Selected Poems: 1970-1999, ECW Press). Like much of her work “Penises, 1” is a poem that is politically poignant, direct (pushing against Canadian-Anglo aesthetic decorum) and funny. The speaker of the poem remarks that her “baby boy” “does not yet have a piece of his brain/in the head of his penis.” The poem has always made me uncomfortable, which is part of its power and, 30 years later, I think it’s still a poem everyone, and perhaps, especially, men ought to read.

Jacob Scheier is the author of Letter From Brooklyn (ECW Press)

Carolyn Smart on "Words" by Sylvia Plath:

The poem I most often return to for inspiration and gratitude is Sylvia Plath’s “Words” (the final poem in her collection ARIEL). The date on which I fully engaged with it for the first time is written in blue pencil on the bottom of the page: July 27, 1982, 1 a.m.

It still strikes me as clear beyond language: it affects me in a visceral way — I feel its deep images pulsing through my brain. It addresses what I as a poet care deeply about: the potency of words; choice; connection.

Thank goodness it’s always there to go back and back to.

Carolyn Smart is the author of Careen (Brick Books)

Zoe Whittall on "Rape Joke" by Patricia Lockwood:

I have so many I can't really pick an absolute fav. But I really love the poem "Rape Joke" by Patricia Lockwood. I like it because it's clever and hilarious and horrifying, especially the final passage about him bringing her a copy of Pet Sounds the next day.

Zoe Whittall is the author of Holding Still for as Long as Possible (House of Anansi)


National Poetry Month was established in April 1998 by the League of Canadian Poets. NPM brings together schools, publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, and poets from across the country to celebrate poetry and its vital place in Canada’s culture.

To learn more about National Poetry Month and how you can participate, visit the League of Canadian Poets website.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


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