Vivid verse: Top 10 poetry picks mine meaningful themes


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Poetry makes a great holiday gift -- it shows off the intelligence, taste and erudition of the gifter, while displaying faith in the intelligence, taste and erudition of the giftee.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/12/2014 (2829 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Poetry makes a great holiday gift — it shows off the intelligence, taste and erudition of the gifter, while displaying faith in the intelligence, taste and erudition of the giftee.

Moreover, buying a poetry book counts as an act of charity. Pony up some dough and keep those poets and their publishers off the streets! Buy them all as a starter pack for your personal poetry library!

The long list of poetry books I read each year is dwarfed only by two longer book lists: the poetry books I don’t read, and the poetry books I don’t finish reading. As a result, all of the standard disclaimers that I don’t read every book, etc., apply to the list below, which is ordered alphabetically by title.


1. Cinema of the Present (Coach House, 112 pages, $18) by Lisa Robertson. A montage of philosophical questions, filmic images and meditative statements, from which “a bunch of uncanniness emerges.”

2. Guantanamo (Les Figues, 158 pages, $17) by Frank Smith, translated by Vanessa Place. Appropriated language from the prison camp’s verbal trials, reshaped into a poetic novel where “We are the interrogator, we are the interrogated. / We ask a question, we answer the question asked.”

3. he’ll (Pedlar, 96 pages, $20) by Nathan Dueck. A fragmentary story set in Rat River that plays with Plaut’dietsch. Poetic proof that “You haven’t had a night / ‘…’til you’ve had a Mennonite.”

4. Janey’s Arcadia (Coach House, 136 pages, $18) by Rachel Zolf. Focusing on Manitoba, Zolf blends ignorant online comments about aboriginals with historical source texts about aboriginals misread by OCR technology, to produce brutal, violent metaphors for cultural misreading, so that, “With a minimum of means we / get a maximum of expression.”

5. Kern (Les Figues, 92 pages, $17) by Derek Beaulieu. Visual poems crafted using dry-transfer lettering, to resemble “logos and slogans for … impossible businesses.”

6. M x T (Coach House, 96 pages, $18) by Sina Queyras. Elegies and meditations on grief and memory, that sparkle with wit and verve. “If you did not arrive to this city by canoe you can f off.”

7. No, Wait. Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself. (Ugly Duckling, 80 pages, $16) by Robert Fitterman. A collage of emotionally charged found text, where a single voice emerges in a litany of self-loathing. “My hobbies include: being sad and lonely / all the time and my interests / Consist of people I can’t have.”

8. Downverse (Talonbooks, 118 pages, $17) by Nikki Reimer. Crashing different voices against one another to uncover the terrifying absurdity of capitalist culture, a world where “we are focusing more on education when responding to chicken complaints.”

9. The Poetic Edda (Coach House, 280 pages, $24) translated by Jeramy Dodds. Tales of the Norse gods and heroes, told in energetic, lively lines. Loki’s witty banter has never been more fun: “That’s enough, Njord, check yourself. / I can’t keep silent a moment more. / You sired your son with your sister, / though that doesn’t seem unexpected.”

10. Thrum (Talonbooks, 116 pages, $17) by Natalie Simpson. The fractured bone shards of the poems we might expect, which revel in our failures to communicate. “How are my wife and I supposed to understand Elvish?”


An honourable mention goes to Ryan Fitzpatrick’s outstanding Fortified Castles (Talonbooks, 98 pages, $17). I loved it so much that I edited it for the publisher, thus disqualifying it from this list.

Favourite Fitzpatrick line: “I hope that these half-vampire Juno wannabes / remember to be someone else in their life.”


Winnipeg English professor Jonathan Ball (@jonathanballcom) lives online at, where he writes about writing the wrong way.


Updated on Saturday, December 27, 2014 9:02 AM CST: Formatting.

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