On Saturday, November 26 at 6pm, join Massy Arts Society, Massy Books and Biblioasis to celebrate the 2023 edition of Best Canadian Poetry. Selected by guest editor John Barton, this collection showcases the best poetry writing published in 2021.
In selecting this year’s edition of Best Canadian Poetry, Barton brings the same spirit to his survey of Canadian poems published by magazines and journals in 2021. From new work by Canadian favourites to exciting new talents, this year’s anthology offers fifty poems to challenge and enlarge your sense of the power and possibility of Canadian poetry.
Elee Kraljii Gardiner / A poem can do everything, far beyond imagination
Rafael Zen – On Nov 26, you are one of the guest poets of the 2023 edition of “Best Canadian Poetry”. To start, why do you think poetry is important in our times? What can a poem do? And also, what does it mean for a poet to establish connection?
Elee Kraljii Gardiner – Poetry is a short-bust, rapid-pivot, emotionally-loaded creative game of darts that gives me access to an entire community of people to play with, and learn from. A poem can do everything, far beyond what is imaginable. I mean that both stylistically and socio-politically.
If a poem connects (and that connection might provoke repulsion, frustration, anger, or the gentle dopamine swell of pleasure) the poet has achieved immortality: The reader’s cells, even for a moment, have reacted. The record is changed.
This question of poetry’s importance, though, irks! Other genres, especially fiction and memoir, are not asked to defend themselves or explain their worth. Like all art, poetry is only as important as you want it to be. Sure, poetry can slide into curious generative places that more commercially-endowed genres can’t (i.e.: experimental chapbooks) but it is also discounted for that reason.
RZ – How did you receive the information that you were selected for this book – and with what poem? Why do you think this/these poem was selected? What do you think it speaks about your poetic work?
EKG – I scarcely publish in journals and never knew the mechanism of selection for the Best Of anthologies—it was something that happened to other people’s poems, and like many publication mysteries, seemed to be happening in another world than mine.
This poem, “A Mirror of Hieronymus Bosch ” was 100% deus (or devil) ex machina. It wrote itself, and quickly, a few years ago and then it sat in a file like a gargoyle on a cornice: silent and immoveable. I sent it to Long Con magazine spontaneously after reading their tweet about open submissions. Two weeks later it was published. They took such good care of it! And then out of the blue, Biblioasis sent me a lovely invitation for inclusion in this anthology, explaining that the editor had selected it.
I am writing long poems and don’t yet know how to excerpt my projects well so this self-contained, discrete poem is an oddball for me. Its self-containment probably helped it along to these pages. The poem came from looking at a painting and when I read it the poem feels like a GIF.
RZ – What do you think of this term – Canadian Poetry? Would it be possible to describe what Canadian Poetry – as a genre or theme – would sound/look like? Do you think it would be possible to predict what is the tone/themes for an anthology like this? If so, what would be your guesses?
EKG – I lean towards pluralities and polyvocals so I necessarily feel more in common with “Canadian poetries” than the singular monolith, but even the plural is a big, blocky designation, isn’t it? We are so many Canadas at once, and the idea of “nation” is one to contest repeatedly, daily. I do think the term Canadian Poetry might be less of a window into theme/form/flavour than a peek at how funding models affect literary production, in contrast to the US, for example, where publication is usually linked to contests.
RZ – Do you know any of the other poets chosen for this edition? If so, who are you looking forward to read – and why?
EKG – Any time I’ve been lucky enough to be nominated for a prize or included in a reading I have felt a sort of sibling-ness with the other poets, as if we form a cohort even if brought together by timing or luck. I became friends with Lucas Crawford this way when we were finalists for the Kroetsch Award.
I feel as if I know many of the writers in this anthology because I “see” them on social media, so that’s a funny feeling, but Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang and I actually work at Vancouver Manuscript Intensive together. I’ve corresponded with or attended readings by others, but not all (yet!). I am glad to know that despite my oversaturated media consumption there are so many excellent poets that I have yet to encounter.
The Griffin Poetry Prize just folded the Canadian prize into the International one to make one mega-prize (there is an offshoot prize for a first book in English). In effect, this eradication has diminished the possibility for poets and for Canadian poetry books to connect with new readers.
That’s why an anthology with a mandate as simple as “the editor liked it” is such a wild ride: John Barton chose 50 poems published during one year with a desire to include as wide a range of poetic voices and experiences as he could. It’s anti-theme! I haven’t seen the book yet and am so curious about how the poems move around each other.
I do want to say thank you to John Barton and everyone at Biblioasis, including Anita Lahey, Vanessa Stauffer, Ashley Van Elswyk, and Emily Mernin for their clarity, organization, and excitement about this project. And thanks to Massy Books for literally holding space on the shelf and in the room for all these voices.