Canadian Poetry

April being Poetry Month has always felt fitting. Most of us would agree poetry is about beauty, rhythm, and admiration of the world and language. When I was working at a charming independent bookstore in Toronto for 3 years, I was drawn to our growing poetry section and was amazed by the incredible diversity and skill in contemporary Canadian poets!

I used to think poetry was a stuffy almost indecipherable way of writing and communicating emotions or thoughts, which it certainly can be, but I also found so many wonderful poems and collections that were funny, stylistically interesting, gut wrenching, and as atmospheric as anything that allowed me to connect with the emotional side of the words in a very unique way.

As I began to write my own and explore poetry, I realized the more I tried to rationalize the “meaning” or the “plot”, the further away from the experience I got. Poetry can be playful – you just have to be willing to play along and use your imagination in a slightly different way.

Here’s some of my recommendations to dip your toes into some Canadian poetry collections this month!

— Jackie M.

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

Without a doubt, this is one of my top 10 favourite books of all time. This is a retelling of a slightly less famous Greek myth of Herakles and Geryon, a red monster that lives on an island in solitude, that Herakles slays without much fuss. In Autobiography of Red, Geryon is a young boy growing up in an abusive household who decides to write his own autobiography. Geryon meets and falls hard for Herakles as teenagers, and we follow them across the world as they grow into their early twenties. This beautiful novel in verse is a great start for any reluctant poetry readers – this book does indeed have a plot!

NDN Coping Mechanisms by Billy Ray Belcourt

Belcourt is an absolute poetic treasure. His work is in turn bitingly funny, sexy, emotional, and powerful in its ability to imagine Indigenous utopia(s).

Washes, Prays by Noor Naga

This is another gorgeous novel in verse set in a more contemporary timeline. These long poems follow Coocoo, a young Muslim woman living in Toronto struggling with her faith and deep loneliness, until she meets a man who seems to be perfect, with the issue being that he is married. This collection is both darkly funny and gutting.

Drolleries by Cassidy McFadzean

These poems feel celestial, mythical, and contemporary all at once. A truly magical reading experience.

These Are Not the Potatoes of My Youth by Matthew Walsh

These delightful poems cover Walsh’s queer coming of age across Canada – growing up in the Maritimes and travelling, growing, and learning across the country. Another bitingly beautiful collection.

Cluster by Souvankham Thammavongsa

2020 Giller prize winner and superstar Souvankham Thammavongsa writes just as nimbly in poetry – if you liked How to Pronounce Knife, check out her poetry too!