Excerpt from Best Canadian Poetry 2008, “Introduction”

Introduction

As I read 2007’s possible contenders – each on several occasions, to increase a poem’s chances of striking me in a receptive moment – what was I looking for? First: good writing. Awkward or rote syntax; familiar expressions, images and locutions; or random lineation, ruled a poem out. A meaningfully rebellions and distinctive syntax or deliberately dissonant music often riled it in. Second: depth and challenge, be that emotional or intellectual. If additional readings failed to yield new insights and appreciations, but rather, dulled the flash I’d sensed the first time around, the poem lost its Post-it note. Finally, and inseparable from the first two criteria: an interesting, even strange, sensibility or imagination. (As an undergrad, I fumed when one of my instructors remarked that my poems failed to startle. I didn’t want to startle; surely the startle factor was overrated. Only later dud I realize that what I did want to do – to please – doomed my poems to mediocrity.) “Startling” need not imply clatter and flash. I sought poems that excited and surprised me, that felt (boldly or quietly) necessary, often urgent. I sought poems serious and poems frivolous (though seriously frivolous). Those poems that played it safe, that failed to follow through on the risks they initiated, or that took risks apparently for their own sake, without integrity to form content, did not make it into the anthology, though some distinguished themselves enough to appear on the long list. I was without doubt a tougher critic than if I’d been reading fewer poems, but asking myself whether I could confidently put my name behind a particular choice forced me to be discerning.


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