31 December 2017

17 poetry books from 2017, plus some stuff I had a hand in

I didn't read a ton of new poetry during 2017. I was pretty buried in editing jobs most of the year, and visiting schools, and leading workshops, and obsessing over American politics, and wrestling with my brain.

But I've chosen 17 books to highlight here on Bloggamooga. They are not the "best" of 2017. They are simply 17 books that really impressed me. You've probably heard of some of them; others might be new to you.

I have deliberately omitted any books I saw through presses myself. And 2017 was a busy year in that way for me, too. I'm really proud of the four books I helped usher into the world and I'll ramble on about those a bit before I get to my list of 17.

Early in the year, Wilfred Laurier University issued Certain Details: The Poetry of Nelson Ball, edited and introduced by me, with a fascinating afterword by Nelson. Paul Dutton had suggested this project to me, and I'm grateful to him for it. I got to read every published poem by Nelson, work spanning six decades, and Nelson gave me permission to include more than one poem per page, when they fit, so I really got to cram a lot of Nelson's poems in there! It's beautiful to work on such a project with a good friend who is also a favourite poet.

Next up was Bad Engine: New & Selected Poems, by Michael Dennis, from Anvil Press. Again, I edited and introduced this hefty volume. Michael and I have been friends since he found me selling my books on the streets of Toronto in the early 1980s. Like Nelson, Michael is a poet whose work is instantly accessible, straightforward, and about the everyday things of our lives. Again, I got to read through every published poem by Michael, and also select from about 60 or 70 new and unpublished poems he provided me with. This project was pure pleasure for me.

Then, this past fall, I worked with Nelson on another book, for which I returned briefly to my imprint ("a stuart ross book") at Mansfield Press. Walking is a stunning new full-length collection, and Nelson's most "social" book yet. It reads almost as a meditative novel of mourning and love and mindfulness. Many of the poems feature Nelson's dear friend Catherine Stevenson, and I wondered if it might be a neat idea to let her have her say in the book too. So this collection features a brief afterword by Catherine, and another by the Norwegian poet Dag T. Straumsvåg, who also admires Nelson's work.

Finally, a book a long time in the making. The Least You Can Do Is Be Magnificent: Selected & New Writings, by Steve Venright, compiled and with an afterword by Alessandro Porco. This massive compendium is the first instalment of my new imprint with Anvil Press, "A Feed Dog Book." It's also one of the weirdest, funniest, and most intelligent books of poems and prose poems and poetic fictions you'll ever meet. Like Nelson and Michael, Steve is a friend of mine stretching back several decades. He is, for me, the heart of Canadian Surrealism. Porco is a huge Venright fan, and his back-of-book essay is a beautiful exploration of what Steve has accomplished.

Now for the 17 recommended reads from my own modest and inadequate survey of 2017's poetry publications in English. Of course, this list could've been — and maybe should be — much longer, but such is the nature of these sorts of lists. I still have a pretty big heap of 2017 poetry books I haven't read yet!

In alphabetical order by author:

Kaveh Akbar. Calling a Wolf a Wolf. Alice James Books.
Chris Banks. The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory. ECW Press.
Gary Barwin. No TV for Woodpeckers. Wolsak and Wynn.
Kevin Connolly. Xiphoid Process. Anansi.
Clark Coolidge. Selected Poems 1962–1985. Larry Fagin and Clark Coolidge, eds. Station Hill.
Lynn Crosbie. Corpses of the Future. Anansi.
Jack Davis. Faunics. Pedlar Press.
Helen Dimos. No Realtor Was Compensated for This Sale. The Elephants.
Angela Hibbs. Control Suppress Delete. Palimpsest.
Sonnet L’Abbé. Anima Canadensis. Junction Books.
Layli Long Soldier. Whereas. Graywolf.
Canisia Lubrin. Voodoo Hypothesis. Wolsak and Wynn.
Sina Queyras. My Ariel. Coach House.
Shazia Hafiz Ramji. Prosopoeia. Anstruther.
Matthew Roher. The Others. Wave Books.
Suzannah Showler. Thing Is. McClelland & Stewart.
Gillian Sze. Panicle. ECW Press.

The way I see it, this would make a pretty exciting reading list for a course in contemporary North American poetry.

Check back here on January 2 for my 2018 New Year's poem.

Over and out.


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