Tuesday, October 21, 2008


The shortlists for the 2008 Governor General's Literary Awards have been announced. The poetry list, as chosen by Di Brandt, Pier Giorgio di Cicco and Connie Fife (have you heard of her?):

Weyman Chan, Calgary, Noise from the Laundry.
(Talonbooks; distributed by Raincoast / Publishers Group Canada)
(ISBN 978-0-88922-578-7)
Chan’s poetry takes us through a breathtaking range of encounters, filled with sly wit, sparkling linguistic turns, and an astonishing youthful clarity about the complexities of the contemporary human project.

A. F. Moritz, Toronto, The Sentinel.
(House of Anansi Press; distributed by HarperCollins Canada)
(ISBN 978-0-88784-790-5)
The circumstances of being fully human are the hallmark of Moritz’s work – carried out with erudition and compassion for the human journey. Sources of many literatures combine in a unique voice that is both pan-American and global.

Sachiko Murakami, Vancouver, The Invisibility Exhibit.
(Talonbooks; distributed by Raincoast / Publishers Group Canada)
(ISBN 978-0-88922-579-4)
Murakami’s poems take us into the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. Her words – eloquent, stark and bold – tackle the silences surrounding Vancouver’s “missing women.” This collection is a must read. Each poem harbours its own life.

Ruth Roach Pierson, Toronto, Aide-Mémoire.
(BuschekBooks; distributed by ListDistCo)
(ISBN: 978-1-894543-43-9)
Aide-Mémoire is sophisticated, witty, tender, grieving, ironic, cunning, open-eyed, open-hearted. The poems take us through a lifetime of memories, reflections, and imaginative engagements, traversing several continents and ages, without ever losing their fierce, intimate, ecstatic connection to our common humanity and the living green world,
close-up, and all at once, nested among wheeling stars.

Jacob Scheier, Toronto, More to Keep Us Warm.
(ECW Press; distributed by Jaguar)
(ISBN 978-1-55022-794-9)
Scheier’s young voice urgently questions every cultural convention, every truth. The poems are infused with humour, irony, intelligence, wit, grief, and above all, love.


A pleasant surprise to see Sachi Murakami get a nomination. I've been meaning to read her book for some time, because what I have heard/read is quite strong. Moritz's book is no surprise; I' m sure there are many people who think it high time he wins a GG. Other than that, tho, this is a hand of wild cards. The Sentinel is the only one I've read entire and it does have some strong poems in it, but is on the whole far from his best. Of Chan, Pierson and Scheier I know next to nothing. Scheier's collection, like Sachi's, is a debut; it's fairly typical for there to be one darkhorse debut collection in any given year's shortlist, but two is pretty uncommon.

None of this means that these books aren't good enough--I've heard some good things about Scheier, in particular--but I've got to wonder if they were better than Stephen Brockwell's The Real Made Up (an uneven book with some exceptionally fine poems); Eric Miller's breakout collection The Day in Moss, Adam Sol's electrifying verse novel Jeremiah, Ohio (probably my pick, of the eligible books I've read--my review of it is in the new issue of Quill & Quire); Elise Partridge's outstanding sophomore collection Chameleon Hours (to be reviewed by Elizabeth Bachinsky in a forthcoming CNQ); Jeffery Donaldson's finely crafted and very intelligent Palilalia (to be reviewed by James Pollock in a forthcoming CNQ) and Matt Rader's vigorous and rigorous second book, Living Things (review forthcoming in Arc).

Obviously, not all of the books any one reader would choose are likely to make the shortlist, but when, year after year, next to none of them do--and when it's all too frequently all too easy to play connect-the-dots between jurors and nominees--it's hard to have any faith in the value of this institution.

In other disappointments, no love for Anything But Hank! in the children's illustration category. We really thought Eric's wonderful paintings deserved a nod. We still do. But there was stiff competition, to be sure.


Evie said...

Hey, is there a blurb/judge connection in here somewhere--maybe I'm wrong?

Zachariah Wells said...

Quite likely. It would be far from the first time. Which book/judge combo are you thinkin'?

Evie said...

Haven't got the book yet (on its way) but I believe it's the Di Cicco/ Scheier factor.

Michael Lista said...

You're so goddamn right about the books that should have made the poetry cut. And I'd add Jeramy Dodds' debut, Crabwise to the Hounds, which is gorgeous.

Zachariah Wells said...

A)Jeramy's a good friend of mine.

B)I haven't got the book yet (shame).

C)I'm told I'm mentioned in the acknowledgments.

Otherwise, I'd no doubt have mentioned it.