Monday, December 28, 2015

Favourite Poetry of 2015

Gore Park, 6am. #hamont

Here are the ten best books I read this year, selected from 2014-2015 releases and organized alphabetically by author. For each book or chapbook I’ve included either a micro-review, a blurb or, in rare cases, an excuse about why I did not write more. Read on!

You’ll notice several of these selections hail from Ottawa, and all of them are Canadian. (The roots of my literary gaze on full display.) A big thank you to the authors and publishers responsible. 

All the best in 2016!

1) Small Waterways - Nelson Ball (Fave Poetry of 2015)

Small Waterways (Apt. 9 Press, 2015)

Is it possible that Nelson Ball hadn’t written a poem called “Fall” until now? Hard to believe, given the author’s knack for seasonal changes and brevity. But knowing what to expect from a new Nelson Ball collection doesn’t dull its anticipation. With each recent title from the prolific, Paris, Ontario based author, we’ve been gifted stunningly clairvoyant poems in Ball’s minimal style. And Small Waterways is perhaps the sharpest, accenting stark vistas with almost imperceptible, existential flourishes that balance his explicit sadness with a renewed acceptance. 

Beyond the smidgeon of verve added to these immaculate lines, Apt. 9 Press delivers something really unexpected: an addendum of notes in which Ball discusses the background of several poems, his relationship with Catherine Stevenson and her resulting film, Nelson Ball & Barbara Caruso | Home Project | A photo documentary. Rarely do we get to read so much from this author’s pen in one sitting — and all in a chapbook, no less.

2) Wool Water - JC Bouchard (Fave Poetry of 2015)

Wool Water (words(on)pages, 2015)

I began the year reading The Grey Islands by John Steffler. It’s a remarkable book that, released in 1985, falls outside the consideration pool of even a slow reader like myself. Alas, poetry about isolated men coming to terms with nature became a recurring theme throughout my reading this year and oftentimes serendipitously. Wool Water is my favourite of the bunch, in part because it’s the first extended stay I’ve had in JC Bouchard’s work — all else being one-off poems — but also because this sturdy chapbook has no one-off poems. Roman numerals are on hand to punctuate Bouchard’s timeline but they act more like transition wipes in the mies-en-scene of an adventure in Iceland.

It’s a solitary excursion, ostensibly shared with other tourists but gleaming nothing from their presence. Just as well, the distance from home and relative isolation are not framed as excuses to probe some unresolved event that jettisoned him north. No, Wool Water records how humans grapple with landscapes either inconvenient or inhospitable, and in a way that makes readers — visually cut-off from his experiences — marvel from their armchairs. Interaction with nature in its primary language — the physiological properties of water, earth and air — keeps Bouchard in the present, his language alert to each moment. Almost like a survival instinct, Wool Water abandons the commentary that would result from processing these experiences, giving us an unblemished meditation on environment and quietude.