The beginning of April marks the start of National Poetry Month. It’s been 23 years since Canada started celebrating the occasion, and this year the League of Canadian Poets has invited the community to celebrate with the theme of resilience.
There are many poets who have shared their stories through different forms of verse, prose and poems. To celebrate these poets and their stories, the Toronto International Festival of Authors has selected eight writers in Canada who have recently celebrated (or will soon!) the release of their debut poetry books that share their perspectives, experiences and stories of resilience.
Cicely Belle Blain
Cicely Belle Blain is a Black/mixed, queer femme who has made an impact through their passion for justice, liberation and meaningful change via transformative education. Blain is noted for founding Black Lives Matter Vancouver, and through poetry, Blain has continued making an impact. Their debut book, Burning Sugar (August 2020) was published under the VS. Books imprint from Arsenal Pulp Press. Burning Sugar explores life, both through the beauty of friendship and love, as well as the legacy of colonization and its impact on Black bodies.
Poet Junie Désil has performed at many literary events and festivals, and her work has appeared in Room Magazine, PRISM International, the Capilano Review and CV2. In September 2020, Désil’s debut poetry collection eat salt | gaze at the ocean was published by Talon Books. Throughout the collection, she uses a zombie metaphor to explore Black sovereignty, Haitian sovereignty and the treatment of Black bodies, with her own experience of growing up Black and Haitian of immigrant parents on stolen Indigenous Lands shaping the work.
Jessi MacEachern, a poet and English literature teacher in Montreal, has had her work published in Poetry Is Dead, Vallum, MuseMedusa, Canthius, PRISM and CV2. Last month, MacEachern celebrated the launch of her debut collection, A Number of Stunning Attacks (Invisible Publishing). The six poems draw on innovative styles by women poets in Canada, using the page and sparse lines to lead readers through fragmented moments, putting them in a position to feel and experience it first-hand. It leads to an intimate look at the emotional difficulty of facing the self and the other.
Tolu Oloruntoba is a writer, project manager and founder of Klorofyl, a literary and graphic art magazine. Born in Nigeria, and after living there and in the United States, Oloruntoba emigrated to Canada and now lives in the Greater Vancouver Area with his family. His chapbook Manubrium was shortlisted for the 2020 bpNichol Chapbook Award. This May, his debut poetry collection The Junta of Happenstance will be published by Anstruther Books. The collection explores dis-ease, both through Oloruntoba’s former experience working as a physician and through family disfunction, (im)migrant experience and urban/corporate anxiety.
Natasha Ramoutar is an Indo-Guyanese writer by way of Scarborough. In September 2020, her debut book, Bittersweet was published by Mawenzi House. Through her memory, and the help of photographs, maps, language and folklore, Ramoutar explores the concept of home, belonging and resilience. She is one of the editors of Feel Ways: A Scarborough Anthology, and will be celebrating the launch of the book on April 30 through the Toronto Lit Up programme.
jaye simpson, a Two-Spirit Oji-Cree person of the Buffalo Clan, often writes about being queer in the child welfare system, and being queer and Indigenous. simpson performed at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in 2017, performed with the Vancouver Slam Poetry 2018 Team and was named the Vancouver Champion for the Women of the World Poetry Slam in 2019. Their work has also been featured in Poetry Is Dead, This Magazine and PRISM international. simpson’s debut poetry book was published in September 2020 by Nightwood Editions. The collection, it was never going to be okay, is where simpson tries to break down years of silence, exploring intergenerational trauma, Indigeneity and queerness.
On the CBC’s Best Canadian Poetry list of 2020 is Lily Wang’s debut collection Saturn Peach (Gordon Hill Press, August 2020). Through the book, Wang chronicles the strangeness of a technologized world, leading readers into a dream-like state by exploring memories and moments. Heartbreaking, but also warm and inviting, the collection is one that readers will feel the desire to read again once it’s over. Lily Wang is the founder and editor of Half a Grapefruit Magazine. Her work has appeared in Peach Mag, the Puritan, the Hart House Review and more.
Ash Winters, a queer and sober Toronto-based poet, navigates the intersections of addiction, identity and trauma in their work. In their debut poetry book, Run Riot: Ninety Poems in Ninety Days (Dagger Editions, January 2021), readers get a deeply personal look at Winters’ stay in rehab. The collection of 90 poems, one for each day of their stay, gives an honest exploration of the challenges and emotions of overcoming addiction. It’s heartfelt and humorous, and you can learn more about the collection during the Toronto Lit Up launch on April 3.