Tightrope Books and series editor, Molly Peacock, invited A.F. Moritz to be their guest editor of The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2009 and together accomplished the incredibly difficult task of selecting and compiling some of Canada’s most astonishing poets from 2009. The collection is a survey of 50 of Canada’s most eloquent, profound, humorous and meditative writers, ranging from the seasoned and well known to the new and upcoming. This year Moritz added 20 more Canadian journals to select from, including numerous online journals such as ditch, poetry and Hammered Out. This is a good move on Moritz’s part since a large portion of Canada’s excellent writing is being published online.
In her brief introduction, Peacock writes: “ideas of excellence vary for each of our yearly editors” and “Each year another guest editor does the daunting job of choosing the best and defining what best means,” admitting that, inevitably, many of these pieces are selected by personal taste. In his essay, Moritz alludes to his own predilections, which is best illustrated in a few of Dave Margoshes’ lines: “What could be easier than learning to write/ Novels, poems, fables with and without morals/ they’re all within you, in the heart, the head.” Based on this example, one would assume that the selection is going to be expressive, lyrical and overall, a fairly conventional collection, and they would assume rightly. There are some great pieces included by writers such as CanLit giant, Margaret Atwood (of course), the late Margaret Avison and
P.K. Page, as well as some beautiful pieces by Don Domanski, Don McKay, Jan Zwicky and others. Overall, however, the assemblage is rather dry and stodgy. Each poem does have its own merit, but for this collection to be a representation of Canada’s contemporary poetic output is somewhat disappointing and misleading. The writers here do not lack skill, it’s not the quality of writing that is under critique, but it would be beneficial to have included writers with more diverse approaches. Moritz made some excellent changes to the selection process, but his attempt to expand the limits of the series fell short. (Eric Schmaltz)
edited by A.F. Moritz, $18.95 151 pgs, Tightrope Books, 602 Markham St, Toronto, ON, M6G 2L8