After the ecstacy of the Walrus Poetry Prize competition, the laundry

The whirlwind known as The Walrus Poetry Prize competition has now come and gone, and it went to two very deserving and lovely poet-people, Meira Cook and Bardia Sinaee (you can still read all of the poems here). Equally as accomplished is the wonderful Nyla Matuk, fellow nominee who actually had two poems in the competition. I think it’s fantastic—although it seemed to go unreported?—that in a national blind competition, 4 out of the 5 poems were by women, and with a top female judge, Karen Solie, too.

The Walrus Prize nomination was momentous in ways than I can’t probably describe at the moment. It has provided a great deal of positive exposure, and also gave me my first bittersweet taste of critical feedback. As someone who also works as a critic, I’ve always known I’m going to have to be able to eat what I dish out. Yet, I felt like I’d ingested something a teeny bit “off” when I read this recent description of the nominees by Stewart Cole—whose work I absolutely love, by the way—as part of a review of Nyla’s new (and great) book:

Though of course distinct in crucial respects, all five Walrus Prize finalists broadcast their cosmopolitanism in flashing lights, foregrounding foreign places and/or non-English words while rhetorically favouring modes descended from the sort of urbane associative deadpan first bequeathed to English-language poetry through Eliot’s transfigurations of Laforgue, and later made inescapable in a more digressional form through the rise to prominence of the inveterate Francophile Ashbery….the finalists as a group advertise less the diversity of poetic practices ongoing in Canada than aspects of a coalescing fashion.

This characterization made me think hard about what defines me as a poet, which are of course the same things that define me as a person, but I’ve tended to depersonalize my work (as much as that’s possible)…And I realize now I should be more cognizant and expressive of those qualities so that they are clearer to myself and others. I decided to write about them here and now, in part because these reflections also dovetail nicely with my forthcoming chapbooks, called Royal and Ringsend.

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‘Canadian Poetry’s Unlikely Renaissance’

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Russell Smith wrote this article about poetry in general, and The Walrus contest in particular, and had this to say about me:

“Also unlike the prize-winning poems of my youth – which tended to be about aurora borealis and the great noble sorrow of being descended from rugged settlers – the ones selected for this shortlist are amazingly, some might say frustratingly, dense and intellectual. They are not about birds. (Well, only one is.) All of them contain at least one utterly cryptic and barely grammatical conglomeration of words, as if the goal of the best poetry is to flirt with the nonsensical, to see if some suggestions of meaning – maybe just some mood or personal association – will be sparked by the centrifugal force created by a bunch of words wildly spinning together. “We leap magpie flat-footed, shriek obsidian/ disbelief tidings,” writes Stevie Howell, for example. Obsidian disbelief tidings aren’t things I’m familiar with or can picture in any way, but then I think in a frustratingly direct manner.”

Read the whole thing here.

Mixing memory and myth in ‘The Deception of Livvy Higgs’

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Review for The Globe and Mail
Published October 5, 2012

A writer I won’t name once said that in literary fiction, it’s good to have “secrets” in the title–“secrets and women, if you can.” He was being facetious, even though it does ring familiar, and the two do coalesce in Donna Morrissey’s The Deception of Livvy Higgs. While secrets and lies may lure readers in, they won’t hold us; we’re after the promise of a journey toward truth and redemption. Livvy Higgs delivers both in waves, shifting through time periods in a distinctive style that is in turns frenetic and haunting.

Livvy is an elderly, cantankerous woman who has little social support and is in ill health. In her own words, she is “too tired for company and too old for ghosts.” She was raised on the French Shore of Newfoundland by parents embittered with one another and increasingly estranged. Her needy mother, Cecile, felt betrayed by a selfish husband, Durwin, and was isolated in a town where she couldn’t speak the language.

Torn as children are by the confusion of household strife, Livvy received little in the way of useful guidance from her maternal Grandmother Creed, who took sides against her own daughter, Cecile, in the tussles. Now, after a lifetime refusing to look back or open up to anyone, Livvy is suddenly acute with small heart attacks and disorienting memories that leave her dependent on her younger neighbour, Gen. The human company and ghosts have arrived – and they aren’t leaving.

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