Thursday, April 10, 2014

SELDOM SEEN ROAD - Jenna Butler (NeWest Press) - 2014 Raymond Souster Award Nominee -

For the month of April this blog will be looking at the nominees for the 2014 Pat Lowther Memorial Award, Raymond Souster Award and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award as recognized by the the League of Canadian Poets.

The Pat Lowther Memorial Award is given for a book of poetry by a Canadian woman published in the preceding year, and is in memory of the late Pat Lowther, whose career was cut short by her untimely death in 1975. The award carries a $1,000 prize. It is presented each year at the League’s Annual General Meeting in May or June, with the shortlist announced in April.

The Raymond Souster Award is given for a book of poetry by a League of Canadian Poets member (all levels, dues paid) published in the preceding year. The award honours Raymond Souster, an early founder of the League of Canadian Poets. The award carries a $1,000 prize. It is presented each year at the LCP Annual Poetry Festival and Conference in June, with the shortlist announced in April.

The Gerald Lampert Memorial Award is given in the memory of Gerald Lampert, an arts administrator who organized authors’ tours and took a particular interest in the work of new writers. The award recognizes the best first book of poetry published by a Canadian in the preceding year. The Award carries a prize of $1,000 and is sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets. It is presented each year at the League’s Annual General Meeting in May or June, with the shortlist announced in April.


Today's book of poetry:
seldom seen road.  Jenna Butler.  NeWest Press.  Edmonton, Alberta.  2013.

The poems in Jenna Butler's seldom seen road are a loving testament to the hard life the prairie demands of those who live there.

Butler employs a sparse and clear language that gives the very dirt under her feet a new vocabulary. Can poems be a joyous lament, a bittersweet celebration — you bet they can and Jenna Butler excels at putting the reader at the edge of their emotions — exactly where they are most vulnerable.

Called Back

(In Memoriam, G. Johnson)

they left Dorothy in the 30s
    tailspin of the Dustbowl
    farm sunk under rabbitbrush
hitched farther west

successive babies
slung precariously at her back    they drove
cattle    worked the threshing crews
retired to a northern city

        more dark water than
        they'd ever seen    & thinlimbed pines

& now
eighty-five    dodging Alzheimer's
he brings her south again
to finish where he started

she scours the porch
at the senior's residence
    thinks forty years of northern spruce
    slimwillow loon-call

nothing to fasten on here but
claretcup   paintbrush
sunbruised petals she spots & loves hard


seldom seen road is also the manifesto of a secret optimist.  There is much hope in Butler's world and she has found it on the land, the harsh and beautiful land.

Seldom Seen Road

what is true about this land

that prairie is scant
but wears it well
    snowdrifts slung like mink

that all signs last
grasslands a skein of bruises
wagon trails & 
retreating bluestem

& that    against earth
everything is transitory
soddies & clapboard
railbed sown under

sun catches your eye like
a backward glance

alights    moves on


Butler has produced an almanac, a social history and a family archive.  It is up to the reader to decide what role the prairie plays in heredity.

seldom seen road is full of subtle and rewarding poetry, a deep horizon line.

Wild Onions

creek ducks the boundary fence
leaves it slackjawed & dangling
spring    the cattle
wallow in runoff mud
play their spines along the wire

up the coulee
ironstone peters to cactus
wild lupine

the onions are found
by scent    bite
of trodden leaves
    bulbs unearthed like molars
    crepuscular canyon light

wild taste of
earth & dark water

coyote on a lip of land    ochre
moon saddling predawn sky


JENNA BUTLER was born in Norwich, England, close to the North Sea.  Her family emigrated to Canada in the early eighties, initially moving to Toronto and finally settling in Alberta.  The sense of belonging to, and simultaneously not quite fitting into, two places —England and Canada— has heavily influenced her work, which often focuses on the varied landscapes of these two countries.

Butler holds BA and B.Ed degrees from the University of Alberta, in addition to an MA and Ph.D in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of East Anglia (UK).  She is the author of two previous trade books in poetry, Aphelion (NeWest Press, 2010) and Wells (University of Alberta Press, 2012), as well as ten short collections with small presses in Canada, the United States, and Europe.

Butler teaches Literature and Creative Writing at Grant MacEwan University and divides her time between Edmonton, England, and the small farm she runs with her husband in Alberta's north country.


"Jenna Butler brings a fresh set of eyes and a startling lyric language to these poems, a wonderful re-imaging of these prairies and of the people whose stories are part of our history.  One of her narrators declares, "always/out here I know where I stand" and Butler's poems ring with the same conviction."
     Glen Sorestad, author of Leaving Holds Me Here

"Seldom Seen Road dances readers to new ways of knowing; glimpses of the remarkable but often unremarked shadow sides of beauty and pain oscillate with grace and verve.  Jenna Butler's fine eye and ear are the best of companions."
     Barbara Langhorst, author of Restless White Fields

Jenna Butler reads a poem from Wells

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