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Perfect Poetry: Celebrating National Poetry Month


Did you know that the reason April is National Poetry Month has to do with T. S. Eliot, and tax season? According to the League of Canadian Poets’ website, “National Poetry Month began in the US in 1996, spearheaded by the Academy of American Poets on the steps of a post office in New York City. There, the story goes, Academy staff members handed out copies of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Waste Land,” which begins, “April is the cruellest month…” to individuals waiting in line to mail their tax returns.”

This year is, in fact, the 20th year of National Poetry Month in Canada. To celebrate, library staff have created a list (below) of their favourite books, ebooks, movies and audiobooks about all things poetic. Here are a few highlights…

We have to start with a true Canadian classic, The Cinnamon Peeler by Michael Ondaatje. This volume of selected poems written between 1963 and 1990 are so hot you might need gloves to read a print copy. American poet Sharon Olds says about Ondaatje: “You feel yourself deep inside his mind and heart, and from there you feel the poem dance” (source: Penguin Random House website).

Another classic, for readers of all ages, is Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. You might find yourself humming “The Unicorn” (which was later made popular as a song by The Irish Rovers) but there are no wasted words in this whole book: every poem is a treasure. As a child, I adored this book, then later read it to babysitting charges and camp kids. My copy quite literally has chlorine pool water on it. These poems will travel with you for your whole life (as an adult, you may meet a few people who can be compared to the bagpipe who doesn’t say no…..) (Read it online via Poem Hunter). I also desperately adored the funny, wise, and heartbreaking poems in Hey, World, Here I Am, a collection of poems writen the character Kate Bloomfield, star of children’s novels Kate and Look Through My Window by Canada’s own Jean Little.

Our Content Services colleagues recommend a few new titles, as well : Sous Un Ciel Couleur Cayenne by Patrice Desbiens and Tracer un chemin: Meshkanatsheu : écrits des Premiers Peuples. The latter is an anthology of poetry, theatre, stories and manifestos by different generations, from different nations and communities. Stories of family life, adventure, coming of age, relationships, affirmation and liberation. Several of our colleagues also recommend In the Past by David Elliot, Fresh-Picked Poetry, and two titles by Kwame Alexander, one of which, Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets was the winner of this year’s Coretta Scott King award for Illustration.

For those interested in the Beat Generation, you might enjoy exploring Francoeur, le rockeur sanctifé by Charles Messier. This coffee-table book is partly a scrapbook, partly a record of lyrics used and discarded, and partly a biography. The Quebec rocker confides in author Messier about his inspirations, passions, travels and successes. For those following current affairs, Comptine à rebours, from Trillium Book Award winner Sonia Lamontagne, will resonate, with its story of a young woman struggling to overcome past trauma in order to move ahead with her romantic life.

Tenille Campbell, a young Dene and Métis poet, was featured in CBC’s “The great Canadian reading list: 150 books to read for Canada 150” for her book, #IndianLovePoems (Read more on the CBC website). Tenille, who is from English River First Nation in Northern Saskatchewan, draws on her experiences re-entering the dating pool in this collection that touches on the lighter (hickeys!) and more somber (intent, consent, and race) aspects of swimming in the pool.

Have you dived into the titles we recommended and are still looking for more great poetry? Catch up with the local groups around Ottawa: many are showcased, along with the recommended titles, in the list below. Or maybe you just want to get together a bunch of friends and start a suitcase of poetry?

Happy National Poetry Month!


Perfect poetry ~ La poésie parfaite by Alexandra_library

In celebration of April 2018 National Poetry Month, titles in French and English. Nous célébrons le mois de la poésie nationale; titres en français et anglais. Consultez aussi notre liste, "Poésie franco-ontarienne"