I Hate Canadian Nature Poetry; Or, Why I Didn’t Like Arleen Paré’s Governer-General-Award-Nominated Lake of Two Mountains

lakeWell, what a coincidence.  I was just finally sitting down today to write a review of Arleen Paré’s poetry collection Lake of Two Mountains and guess what popped up on my social media feed.  Paré has been nominated for  the Governer General’s award for poetry!  This is obviously fantastic news for Paré and for queer Canadian literature lovers—she’s one of two queer woman nominated for a GG this year (Mariko Tamaki is nominated in the children’s literature category).  (In other Canadian literary prize news, Shani Mootoo’s new novel Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab was on the longlist for the Giller Prize, but failed to make the shortlist).  I’m always happy to see queer Canadian women nominated for the big awards, especially since they come with much-needed financial support!  So I am glad that Paré has been nominated.  This is despite the fact (gulp) that I didn’t really enjoy her book that much.

With full knowledge that some people (possibly more qualified than me) liked this book, here’s why it didn’t really do anything for me:

  1. CANADIAN. NATURE. POETRY. Except for very exceptional exceptions (am I allowed to use those two words together?), I just really don’t want to read any Canadian nature poetry ever again in my life. Maybe this is because I wrote a qualifying Ph.D. exam in Canadian literature and was forced to read way too many terrible poems by such racist douchebags as Duncan Campbell Scott. Paré actually quotes Archibald Lampman (a contemporary of Scott’s) in the epigraph to one of her poems! In any case, I think I’ve had my lifetime’s worth already.  I would never give a book like Lake of Two Mountains to a Canadian unless they told me they loved nature poetry, because it’s just the kind that most Canadians have been forced to read at some point in their years as a student: the kind of poetry that puts you to sleep, makes you think all poetry is boring, and stops you from reading any (Canadian) poetry ever again.  I’d like to surprise people with what kind of poetry  is being written in Canada today, not confirm their worst suspicions.
  1. I have no emotional connection to rural Ontario and Quebec. So I can see how someone who does, especially to the lake country, might like these poems.  My personal connection to the lakes in Ontario is someone suggesting we go to the “beach” one day when I lived in London and bitter disappointment when I realized they meant the fucking lake and that the ocean wasn’t miraculously closer than I had somehow believed. I’m sorry, but the lake is NOT the beach!  Someone who went to the “cottage” in the summer would probably connect with these poems too.  Me?  The word cottage still sounds unbelievably snooty to me, but the Ontarians really don’t mean it that way.  But anyway, I much prefer how Nova Scotians say “the camp” or my go-to, “cabin.”  By the way, there’s quite an interesting old Globe and Mail article about the regional linguistic differences in Canada for that nature weekend getaway, if you’re nerdy like me and so inclined.
  1. Some parts of this collection made me feel like I was reading something that should have been titled “The Settler’s Lament.” Like this segment of the poem “Kanesatake”:

not that you live here but

would you leave if you had to

(your life being trespass)

and where would you go?

to Ireland’s south-west where your mother’s people are from

or to Antrim where your father’s father            or Glasgow

where your father was born

displacements and exile

this not being your people’s original place


can you go back

to where

you never have been?

I don’t know, this just sounds eerily like the kind of ignorant dumb-ass with settler-background saying today in response to Indigenous activism: “What am I supposed to do, go back to England?”  We’ve heard enough of settler perspectives on these issues; it’s time to listen to Indigenous people.

  1. Also, God. I don’t care about God.  Especially not old missionaries and imperialist churches and some dude named Frère Gabriel.  End of story.

How about I end with the one poem in Paré’s collection that I liked?  No doubt about it, Paré has a beautiful way with words.

Ghosts Moving in Forested Shade

light through the low woods

unbinds clavicle       soles

trompe d’oeil

deciduous shadow and shudder

quiver with unabashed shine


what is fixed in the truth is in flux

sleights the eye    there is goodness

there are ghosts moving

faster than the wind   through low bush and leaves

they move more surely than light


About CaseytheCanadianLesbrarian

Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and librarian who holds an MA in English literature. She lives and works in the unceded territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation (Nanaimo, BC). Topics and activities dear to her heart include cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer (Canadian) literature, running, and drinking tea. She runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find reviews of LGBTQ2IA+ Canadian books, archives of the book advice column Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian, and some other queer, bookish stuff. She also writes for Autostraddle. Find her on Twitter: @canlesbrarian. Some of her old reviews, especially the non-Canadian variety, can be found at the Lesbrary.
This entry was posted in Canadian, Indigenous, Lesbian, Poetry, Queer, Rural, Victoria and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to I Hate Canadian Nature Poetry; Or, Why I Didn’t Like Arleen Paré’s Governer-General-Award-Nominated Lake of Two Mountains

  1. Pingback: Link Round Up: October 9 – 15 | The Lesbrary

  2. Craig S says:

    Paré wasn’t the only queer woman nominated for a GG this year — Mariko Tamaki was nominated in the children’s literature category. (And I know your blog’s focus is primarily on queer women, but just for information’s sake there are three queer men in the nominees list too: Michael Harris for non-fiction, Jordan Tannahill for drama and Raziel Reid for children’s literature — and while he isn’t the actual nominee, since the award goes to the translator rather than the original writer, there’s a play by Michel Marc Bouchard up in the translation category too.)

  3. Craig S says:

    Followup comment, wanted to let you know that there appears to be another queer woman among the nominees who slipped by both of us — Julie Joosten, in the poetry category, is profiled in an Xtra article (http://dailyxtra.com/toronto/life/people/julie-joosten-finds-poetry-in-science) and her book “Light Light” was also submitted for the Lambdas earlier this year (http://www.lambdaliterary.org/26th-annual-current-submissions/).

    I’m now almost convinced that this year’s GG list represents an all-time record for queer representation.

  4. Craig S says:

    You’re not going to believe this, but…ANOTHER ONE!!

    Alexandra Shimo was nominated in the non-fiction category as cowriter of Edmund Metatawabin’s memoir “Up Ghost River: A Chief’s Journey Through the Turbulent Waters of Native History”. She identifies herself as queer in this blog post for Toronto Life: http://www.torontolife.com/informer/columns/2014/11/11/alexandra-shimo-memoir-aftershock/ .

    So while the book’s content won’t be specifically queer in nature, it still has a queer cowriter — and still promises to be very much worth reading.

  5. Ann Bird says:

    Lake of Two Mountains is in Quebec not Ontario

  6. Pingback: A Poetry Collection on LGBTQI History that Throws Today’s Young Queer People Under the Bus: A Review of ACQUIRED COMMUNITY by Jane Byers | Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian

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