This Wound is a World – Billy Ray Belcourt
The wounds of “This Wound is a World” speak instead of healing over. Throughout the heady whirlwind of personal and political lyricism, Belcourt maintains an impressive sense of what is the most important thing to express and say. The mark of his craftsmanship is the way his meditations – about queerness, indigeneity, humanity and universality – carry as much beauty as they carry truth. Satisfyingly, the book’s afterword sweeps in like a legend at the corner of a painting, an academic touch that suits the poems perfectly, and makes the book unusually approachable. This is a debut the world cannot celebrate enough.
Feel Happier In Nine Seconds – Linda Besner
It’s hard to say if the title of this book is a promise or a command. The instructive title poem, which opens this collection, builds an elusive message out of a pile of imagery – daffodils are waterboarded, sunbeams are flogged, cantaloupes are sweetened with stolen breastmilk. As you keep reading the book, it becomes clear that this sort of juxtaposition is, for Besner, a route to meaningfulness. Her metaphors are not bizarre for nothing; they illustrate the bizarreness of the world we already occupy. The book’s centrepiece, a literally colourful long poem, demonstrates incredible craft. Living up to the title, the collection has a joyful frankness that rubs off on the reader.
Dividing the Wayside – Jenny Haysom
In this cultural moment where history is a thing one knows to critique, Haysom’s Dividing the Line is contrarian but not defiant—self-assured in its ample and fine craftsmanship yet refreshingly modest in its claims to knowing. Its poems stand with arms open in friendship to the past, belonging nevertheless to the present. Drawing force from Dickinson, Haysom’s keen ear for meter and rhyme invigorate the collection with momentum and intelligence. Finding inspiration in Dürer, Van Gogh and Van Eyck, her ekphrastic responses revivify the colours of works made invisible through familiarity. There is no condescension in the appearances of Chaucer, Donne, Bishop and Keats: they are integral to the poet’s thought and part of the poems’ depth of field, resonances awaiting the curious reader’s exploration. On other pages, forms that don’t merely reiterate but actually supplement and augment the poem’s impact punctuate more traditional strophic structures. These are poems of exile, of the displacements of time and coups of memory that remind us how “in our tenancies / we’re alike, but estranged”—a journey worth taking.
Obits – Tess Liem
In Obits., Tess Liem’s poems articulate grief’s many faces: how, who and what we grieve is circumscribed by what we are told is permissible to grieve, how those ferociously unjust limits anesthetize us against a saving compassion, against even ourselves. At home in both theoretical and intensely personal modes of poetic reflection, Liem uncovers psychic superstructures that lie buried in the earth, demanding that they stand still, be memorialized in language at once sharp and lyric, and be accounted for. This is a passionate and incisive debut.