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The 21st Hamilton Literary Awards: The Poetry Shortlist
Stephen Near

For a city known for its gritty urbanism Hamilton abounds in poets. Perhaps it’s the juxtaposition of the beauty of the escarpment against the light of the flares from the steel mills that inspires them, but this year we’ve quite the poetry shortlist. From a several strong collections submitted this year, three experienced poets have been selected for our shortlist. Slack Action, Jeffrey Donaldson’s fifth collection, A Bee Garden Marilyn Gear Pillings fifth collection and John Terpstra's seventh collection, Brilliant Falls show the unusual strength of the poetry being written in our city.

Marilyn Gear Pilling's A Bee Garden is composed of poems of family, memory, love and friendship, centered around a searing sequence of poems tracing a family’s grief at the death of a young woman from suicide. Laced through these all-too-human stories are gardens, greenery and beauty. Gear Pilling writes of this difficult topic and all other poems in this book with warmth and forgiveness, balancing them with her delight in the physical world. She brings her well-known compassion to bear, and invites the reader into her poems.

In Slack Action we again encounter Jeffery Donaldson's thoughtful yet witty verse. Borrowing its title from a railroad term describing the interplay between train cars, where free movement transmits from one to another, Donaldson’s words highlight the floating space of mid-life. The uncertain space where children are leaving home and parents may be returning, where one can’t always remember how things started and certainly can’t tell how things will end. It is a slippery concept to capture in poetry but Donaldson succeeds admirably in this innovative collection.

John Terpstra's Brilliant Falls is grounded in the grace notes of the everyday. The epiphanies that occur as you teach your daughter to drive or as you clear a house of years of a parent’s accumulated belongings. These poems acknowledge endings, either slow ones or sudden, but as all good poets do, Terpstra tells us these truths slant. We consider being let into heaven due to cutbacks or whether or not a crow on a prairie road might be Sitting Bull. As always Terpstra questions our place in nature and what constitutes divine. But he does it while wrestling an old mattress from the roof of a Honda.

Coming Next: The Fiction Shortlist