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Welcome to Part One of our Poetry Tuesday holiday special, where we explore some of our past and present collections. Today, we’ll be looking at The Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan, edited by Brian Bartlett. Matthew Walsh’s These are not the potatoes of my youth, Ali Blythe’s Hymnswitch, and Patricia Young’s Amateurs at Love.
Alden Nowlan (1933-1983) once wrote of a desire to leave behind “one poem, one story / that will tell what it was like / to be alive.” In an abundance of memorable poems, he fulfilled this desire with candour and subtlety, emotion and humour, sympathy and truth-telling. For many years Nowlan has been one of Canada's most read and beloved poets, but only now is the true range of his poetic achievement finally available with the publication of Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan.
In this confessional debut collection, from their childhood in rural Nova Scotia to the wanderings through the Prairies and Vancover, Walsh explores queer identity set against an ever-changing landscape of what we want, and who we are, were, and came to be. The Toronto Star says, “The most affecting poems are about family, childhood and being gay in a town where homophobia is pervasive,” while Broken Pencil raves, “The writing is simultaneously candid and witty, uplifted by an intangible dreaminess.”
Combining a stark, tensile precision with musicality that lulls and surprises, Ali Blythe, a surreal engineer of language, has once again created an unusually memorable collection with Hymnswitch. Imbued with emotional awareness, these stunning poems will imprint readers with startling images and silences as potent as words. Quill & Quire loved Hymnswitch, concluding that “With incredible economy of language and dialectical drama at the levels of sentence and caesura, Blythe delivers taut yet expansive hymns.”
Patricia Young's Amateurs at Love explores the dynamic, liminal space between lovers, taking precise aim at the silent climacteric moments of the heart: the interrogating, persuading, confiding, reflecting moments that help us feel and understand that distance. Quill and Quire called the collection “frequently playful,” while Today's Book of Poetry blog calls it “a voice worth your good time.”