Tag Archives: trillium book award

Guest post by Trillium nominee Nick Thran: “I am more acutely alive”

In searching for trillium pictures to go along with these guest posts by Trillim nominees, I came across a beautiful old book called Wild Flowers Every Child Should Know, by Frederic William Stack. Describing the trillium undulatum shown here, Stack says it is “one of the commonest and most striking of its clan. It loves to dwell beside cool, trickling brooklets, and in shady dells in rich, damp woods where it blossoms during May and June.” You can see the book page by page at Open Library. I love that the first image is the misunderstood dandelion.

But before you go off in search of wildflowers, please read the “posto” below. Thank you to poet Nick Thran for this delightful contribution. His second book, Earworm, published by Nightwood Editions, is up for the poetry award. Good luck Nick! (Oh dear, and Helen Guri and Jacob McArthur Mooney, too …)

Nick writes:

My wife and I are crashing at a friend’s house at the moment. Our friend lives here with her brother, her sister-in-law, and their three-year-old boy. Apparently this boy, deep in the throws of his first blush with speech, likes to add mysterious ‘o’s to the ends of his words. He goes to the schoolo. He swims in the poolo. Pure play? Signs of a future affinity for the Italian language? Whatever it might be, Dennis Lee gets it:

Mumbo Jumbo

Christopher Columbo

I’m sitting on the sidewalk

Chewing bubble gumbo

Always has. I don’t remember my very first encounter with the poetry collection Alligator Pie. But those sound patterns made one giant “stain on my brain” right from the get-go.  I also think that part of the work Lee’s adult collections do is re-reveal much of the higgledy-piggledy underneath eloquent speech. So when, in Riffs, he says something like “It’s living I flubbed. But mouth to mouth I could sometimes ache into words” I am more acutely alive as the man upstairs trying to articulate something grownup and meaningful to his beloved on a second-year wedding anniversary card. But I’m also alive as this little boy one floor down—maybe bashing a toy elephant’s head against a toy zebra’s head; maybe singing a not-quite-discernable song at the edge of the bathroom sink whilst he stands on the wooden foot stoolo.

Nick Thran is the author of one previous collection of poetry, Every Inadequate Name (Insomniac Press, 2006). His poems have appeared in numerous publications across Canada, including: Arc, The Best Canadian Poetry 2010, Geist, Maisonneuve, Matrix, The National Post and The Walrus. Since growing up in western Canada, southern Spain and southern California, Nick has spent the last few years living in Brooklyn, New York and Toronto.

Trillium Jury Comment: From painted railroads to post-apocalyptic pineapples to walk-off homers, Nick Thran’s Earworm listens in on all of our irreducible, inane, and iridescent obsessions, and then responds. Here is an answer to why poetry matters, to how alchemical stanzas can turn experience to gold. Earworm is just as likely to make you cry as laugh, long and loud.


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Guest post by fellow Trillium nominee Tony Burgess: “something sacred”

Trillium rhomboidal by Pierre Joseph Redoute, c 1800

The guest posts by my fellow Trillium nominees are continuing to come in. Tony Burgess, author of Idaho Winter,  writes today’s piece, and it’s yet another fantastic teacher story.

As with books, there are some teachers that stay with us forever — the Mrs. Walterses and the Mrs. Knoxes of the world. Who were yours, and why?

Tony writes:

In 1969 I was in Mrs. Walters’ grade 4 class. Mrs. Walters was the first person to expose me to the idea that the greater world is primarily an emotional one. That whatever we may learn in class, or from grown ups, was no preparation for how we would feel when and if we became individuals. She used to say that we were not all going to grow up. That some of us would act like children our whole lives. This turned, for me, the cracker jack tagline ‘some kids never grow up’ into a shattering truth. I actually stopped eating it. I believed in Mrs. Walters. It was a bridging kind of belief. Childhood unreality and unnamed fears crossing over, slowly,  and arriving at the rough emotional perimeter I would  gradually become  me.

One day she swept up to the blackboard and wrote in giant block letters – SPEED KILLS.  She went back to her desk and said ‘This isn’t always true.’  She was being deliberately cryptic and as we stared at the words, wondering if she meant fast cars or rockets, we knew that it had something to do with someone she knew. That something awful had happened and it had been lied about and that we should know. We were important enough to her that she  would trust us to know the truth, even if we didn’t understand what it meant. We felt a responsibility to her world.

In the early spring a horrible war began. The boys were ambushing the girls on the trail and throwing hard apples at them. It was violent and unmerciful. By the time the school bell rang there would often be groups of bruised girls crying in the foyer. And then the boys would fight each other, some out of sudden wild chivalry, others to avenge the wounding of a sister. It was an awful time. Confusing and dangerous. The principal dragged offenders in, but the war dragged on. Until Mrs. Walters closed the door, and went to her chalkboard. When the door closed we knew. I don’t remember exactly what she wrote, there was drawing too, but she was identifying us as sexual beings. That we were on the brink of some of the strongest desires we would ever have and that with that came a responsibility. She used words like abuse and power and control. Her jargon was hippy talk: make love not war. In fact, her husband looked like Jesus and instead of kissing in the parking lot they joined peace signs at the fingertips. She framed it so that if we expressed ourselves in a loving way – kissing behind the school, holding hands, even spinning the bottle, then the war would be over. And the principal, the authority, could still be opposed. We could still be offenders.

And the war ended.

In the last week of school Mrs. Walters read us The Light in the Forest. It was the story of territorial wars between Colonialists and native Americans. A boy is taken from his colonial family by the Leni Lenape tribe and raised as an ‘indian’. He is then traded back for land into a culture he was born into but doesn’t understand. His loyalties become torn, his identity is shattered and betrays both sides. In the end he must accept his colonial roots and declare his native family, who he loves, his natural enemy. It’s a complex book for ten-year-old minds. In 1969 no parent discouraged kids from playing cowboys and Indians. In fact, we  watched the redskins and gunslingers chase each other up and down the same pass every Saturday afternoon.  We understood that.

Mrs. Walter warned us that Friday was going to be tough. That The Light in the Forest would conclude. And I recall that morning. Kids being quiet at their desks. Mrs. Walters saying nothing as she prepared to read. It wasn’t dread or apprehension we felt, it was that we were all about to do something sacred. We would emerge with more important thought than the principal or the vice principal or gym teacher had ever had. We knew this. We were about to feel the ending of The Light in the Forest.

And much like in Phil Hall’s fine story here, Mrs. Walters couldn’t finish it. She wept because she knew the end. The boy and his Indian family would meet in the forest and declare each other enemy then slowly part ways. She couldn’t read that to us. So she asked the class to pass it around, reading a few sentences each until the book was done.

Tony Burgess is the author of The Hellmouths of BewdleyPontypool Changes EverythingCaesarea, and Fiction for Lovers, which won the ReLit Award. In 2008, acclaimed director Bruce McDonald adapted Pontypool into film and Tony was nominated for a Genie Award, and won a Chlotrudis Award, for best adapted screenplay. He lives in Stayner, Ontario, with his wife and their two children.

Trillium Jury Comment: Part genre parody, part postmodern game, Tony Burgess’s sixth novel is a darkly absurdist fusion of the coming-of-age story and the nineteenth-century adventure tale, an after-school special helmed by David Lynch, a wild metafictional romp through places real and imagined, and also a shrewd and surprisingly sensitive treatise on human cruelty, suffering, and compassion.


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Guest post by Trillium nominee Helen Guri: the possibilities of connection

Dog’s tooth violet and red trillium by Fanny Amelia Bayfield, 1827

As promised, I’m continuing to feature guest posts by fellow Trillium nominees, who’ve been asked to write about books that have stayed with them from their childhoods. (And it’s also a good excuse for me to search out these beautiful old botanical drawings of trilliums!)

Today’s guest is poet Helen Guri, whose first book Match, published by Coach House Books, has been shortlisted for the Trillium Award for Poetry. You’ll see from her post about The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek that language was a fascination early on — especially if she didn’t quite understand it. But I read something more than that here: regarding Match, the jury was impressed by Guri’s exploration of “loneliness, self-doubt, and the possibilities of connection,” and it seems to me the Bunyip roams in similar territory.

Helen writes:

When I was a kid, my favourite book, hands down, was a slender, floppy little illustrated paperback called The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek by Jenny Wagner.

It’s an Australian book. I am not sure how my parents came across it.

My friends did not have this book in their homes, so I valued it in part because of its apparent rarity. The book contained words that nobody in my family used or was able to explain very well: billabong, billy, and of course bunyip. These lent it a nonsensical, incantatory quality, even though the story was very straightforward.

At the beginning of the book, a mud-covered creature wakes up at the bottom of a creek. The creature, a bunyip, doesn’t know what it is and so wanders through the landscape asking the question “What am I?” of every other creature it meets. The other creatures are Australian animals, like emus and wallabies. Everyone, bunyip included, is studiously ugly in the illustrations.

The bunyip receives a variety of unhelpful and insulting responses, culminating in an edict, from a man (presumably a scientist; pale, bald, at work in an outrageous building decked out with funnels, smoke stacks, satellites, tubes, and a variety of other doodads), that bunyips simply do not exist. This was my favourite scene. The bunyip, in toothy, duck-billed, scaly, potbellied splendour, reclines in a dentist chair while the man (really the ugliest human imaginable) distractedly scribbles nonsense on a notepad.

Eventually the bunyip—whom we understand to be male, even though I don’t think gender is mentioned—meets another bunyip—whom we understand to be female—and the two tell each other they are fine, handsome, and beautiful, and take up residence together in some sort of mud cave.

I should mention that a bunyip is originally a creature from Aboriginal Australian mythology, but that the word has been appropriated to mean an impostor or a pretender. It seems to me that the bunyip in The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek is neither of these things, but its own sort of creature.

One version of a bunyip, painted around 1935, artist unknown

Helen Guri graduated from the University of Toronto’s Creative Writing program, and has taught writing at Humber College. Her work has appeared in many Canadian journals, including Arc, Descant, Event, Fiddlehead and GrainMatch is her first collection. She lives in Toronto.

Trillium Jury Comment: In Match, Helen Guri draws on social parody, the surreal, and psychological insight to elucidate central human concerns: loneliness, self-doubt, and the possibilities of connection. Daringly told from the perspective of an isolated young man who seeks true love with a sex doll, this is a highly accomplished, thoroughly modern, and absolutely singular debut.


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Guest post by Phil Hall, fellow Trillium nominee: “a crucial, unmagical gift”

Trillium sessile, Curtis Botanical Magazine, 1788

I posted a while back about being nominated for the 2012 Trillium Book Award, and mentioned that the list of nominees was eclectic. Lately I’ve been wondering how my fellow nominees would muse about children’s literature. What books stayed with them from their childhoods, and why? I’ve invited them to post here over the next while, and am happy to share this first contribution from poet Phil Hall, whose book Killdeer has already won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, and is a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize. Phil joins another Trillium nominee, Ken Babstock, on the Griffin shortlist.

Thanks, Phil, for this lovely contribution. Does anyone out there have teary teacher stories to share?

When I was in grade 6, I went to Lamb’s School, an SS # in Verulam Township: 8 grades, 8 rows, 1 room, boys’ & girls’ entrances, the teacher a local farmer’s wife, Mrs Knox.

To extend the lunch hour, to finish her thermos of tea, Mrs Knox began to read to us at 1:00 each day.

After she rang the bell & we rushed in sweaty from lunch, we would put our heads down on our desks & listen, perhaps drift slightly to sleep…

She read The Yearling! I wished my dad was named Penny. I wished we lived in a swamp.

She read Beautiful Joe! Dickens in dog-town. My ears hurt when Joe’s were battered.

“More animal stories!” We liked not having to get right back to work. She read My Friend Flicka.

Then, in that dark spring, she began to read the sequel to Flicka – Thunderhead

A novel about a horse who is a throwback, a white foal, perhaps albino, he doesn’t look like either the stud or the mare, he has a wild spirit, maybe one blind eye. (Here is my grade 6 self remembering.)

But this book, unlike the others read to us, is not really an animal story. We are past the animal story now. This is about hard ranch life, the disappointments of marriage, a wife’s despair.

We kept our heads down all that week, but we didn’t know what the hell was going on…

Friday, fifteen minutes into our quiet-time: the rancher, in a rage, has gone to the far village to carouse & get drunk, his wife is slumped in profile under a big monkey tree, its branches are thrashing, a storm was coming in, Thunderhead can be heard stomping the boards of his stall, snorting & whinnying as if on fire…

Mrs Knox stopped reading. Mid-sentence. She had stopped reading. We woke up. We waited. One of us looked up. We all looked up.

Mrs Knox was standing before us. Holding the book. Red-faced. Crying. She was crying.

We watched her crying. We listened to her crying.

She said – as if she were an illustration voicing her caption –  ‘I can’t go on with this!’

It was a crucial, unmagical gift she was giving us, but we didn’t want it.

I loved my teacher. Not quite like a kid does. I thought, I will go to the barn & shoot the horse. If only she would stop crying & keep reading…

Childhood was over. I don’t remember what happens after that.

Phil Hall was raised on farms in the Kawarthas region of Ontario and attended the University of Windsor in the 70s, where he received an MA in English and Creative Writing. He has published numerous books of poems, four chapbooks, and a cassette of labour songs. Recent books include An Oak Hunch and The Little Seamstress.  Killdeer won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and is shortlisted for the 2012 Griffin Poetry PrizeHe is a member of the Writers’ Union of Canada, and lives near Perth, Ontario.

Trillium Jury Comment: Phil Hall’s Killdeer migrates all our basic borderlands: part memoir, part essay, part poetry, all insight. From highway scars to birdwings, crumbling basements to coastlines, Hall’s essay-poems illuminate not only the big issues, but also the essential paradoxes of everyday life. A sure, wondrous, profound pilgrimage of a book.


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