I recently finished Margaret Atwood’s poetry book “Dearly” and loved it, dearly. Though I have to admit I haven’t read much of her work, I am well aware that Margaret is among our best Canadian authors and I was delighted to receive Dearly as a gift this past Christmas of 2020. As it turns out, her book was released in November 2020 around the same time as I was releasing mine. Margaret writes about anything and everything in this book, covering the lateness of a poem in comparison to what has already unfolded, to the life of a cicada (I love cicadas and their contribution to the sounds of summer), to a girls’ health class in the 1950s. Her poem series Pasticene Suite plays with plastic as a name for the current epoch and explores environmental issues, deviating in the middle with some possible tension and mocking of editorial commentary. There are no boundaries to Margaret’s imagination. She includes poems on werewolves, zombies, and aliens. Other poems also touch on realism with end-of-life experiences, remnants of winter vacations, and the luxury of eating coconut during a war (incidentally, I am finding coconut milk difficult absent on grocery store shelves during the current Covid-19 crisis). Some of her work is abstract and loses me in comprehension but still impresses me with her mastery of words. I am glad to add Margaret’s book to my poetry collection.
I received a signed copy of Laura E. Young’s book “Solo Yet Never Alone” as a gift bag/race kit during a swim briefing, the weekend I was about to embark on a swim across Lake Erie with a group of solo and relay swimmers. I wish I had read Laura’s book before that swim (it was a rough one; read the Hamilton Spectator article “Race across Lake Erie ends as swimmers get lost”). Laura (@leywriter) chronicles the swims and attempts of swimmers who have dared to cross the Great Lakes starting with Marilyn Bell - First Lady of the Lake, 1954. These swims are not about doing the front crawl for 10-24 hours, although that is a feat in itself; they are about an incredible human achievement of will and determination against the throws of mother nature, not unlike mountain climbing but on a horizontal plane rather than vertical. Laura gets into the emotions of each swimmer, the assembly of support crews enabling each journey, the conditions - sometimes treacherous - that were faced, and the success (in the swim community we see an attempt as much a success as a finish). Laura’s book is inspiring and I loved reading it! I am lucky to have met and swam beside many of the individuals covered in the book and it made their stories all the more interesting to me. Although her book will be especially appreciated by the open water swimming community, I believe Solo Yet Never Alone is an excellent book for everyone.
Dr. Abuelaish’s book is incredible in so many ways. He writes about some of the most horrific events in his life that one can only imagine, together with the oppression he has personally experienced and witnessed living in Gaza. Much of his stories are extremely troubling and it is amazing how he has been able to persevere. His book might serve as a 238 page report on the history and status of Gaza in the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, though it is also forward-looking and inspirational in terms of what could be if everyone were to move past fear and hatred, and work together toward a bright future of co-existence; of “bridges” as opposed to “barriers”. Dr. Abuelaish’s book is also a gripping story of history, goal-setting, hard work, achievement, triumph, hope, positivity, love, peace, mutual respect, and family values. While reading his book, I was thinking about where I was during each milestone he described, and the "silo of privilege" I have been living in. My own children were coming into the world at some of the worst moments for him and his family. For much of my life I have been ignorant of the ongoing oppression the Palestinian people have experienced and which they still face today in 2021. Dr. Abuelaish confirms much of what I have been reading and watching on documentaries with even greater detail on a personal level. His book is balanced with his love and appreciation of Israeli citizens as much as Palestinians. I believe this book is extremely important for people to read to raise awareness, as the Palestinian side of the conflict often becomes diminished or distorted as the stories move through the news networks.
An Instagram friend I’ve come to follow, Julie Stevens (@jumpingjulespoetry) is one of my favourite poets and I recently purchased her chapbook “Quicksand.” Julie has been living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) for many years. It is difficult to imagine what a person with MS goes through as mobility is taken from them along with the freedom that goes along with it. Julie channels this experience into her poetry so that her readers can understand what a person thinks and feels from the onset and diagnosis, and then forward along the long journey ahead. She also explores some of her interactions with other people along the way - what they might say, how she might respond, and what she’s really thinking. While MS is a central theme, her work showcases, too, what a talented poet Julie is, along with her with and sense of humour, and the inspiration she shares.
I’ve gotten to know Tyneisha (Ty) through Instagram as an “author friend” as we each partnered with FriesenPress on the production of our first book. We’ve been on a parallel journey, and have had our books published within a few weeks of each other. Ty’s book has already reached best seller status on Amazon! Her husband Ryan Ternent did the beautiful illustrations for the book. Centred on Ty’s trimesters, it is a book that would be great for any expecting mother, but it was a nice read for me, too, from a guy’s perspective, and as a father. It is a window into a mother’s mind during pregnancy. Ty delves into the insecurities she felt at times, and the emotional support she needed to get through, which Ryan delivered! She reflects on her past and imagines the future for her child. Check out Ty’s posts on Instagram (@tythepoetess) for more great content including some of her interviews.
Wing’s book “Owl of the Moon” was an enjoyable read for me. The book is nicely laid out and beautifully put together, even before reading his brilliant words. Though Wing is some ten years younger than me, his ideas and vocabulary seem ten years wiser as I read them. I love how he paints nature and experiences with the words he chooses which I can often relate to. Imagine, for example, an "incessant frog party" and what that would sound like. Along with nature themes, he deals with a break-up, Covid-19, and even an attempt at his life over the past year! It boggles my mind, the volume of high-quality poetry Wing writes. This book of 337 pages represents only a third of his output since his last two books. I will want to read his first two books next: “The Bear Within,” and “As a Wolf Breathes.” I always enjoy reading Wing’s Instagram posts too (@thehotwing).
Brandi Marie is an author I’ve discovered through FriesenPress. Her book was published a few months before mine. I first came to know about her book through a book unboxing video she posted on Twitter. Brandi has a spark of adventure in her eyes which is evident in the video. She also has tremendous courage and determination to travel to new, exotic, and faraway places. Her book is divided into four sections; You, I, Them, and We, from which she explores the world along with its challenges, risks, opportunities, pitfalls and joys through different perspectives. Brandi promotes her book and she posts poetry on Instagram (@brandi_was_here); some of it from her book as a preview. She also paints her poetry on rocks on occasion and leaves them for hikers on mountain trails. I loved her book and would recommend it to anyone - especially people like me who are afraid to get outside of their comfort zone and travel the world.