By Casey Stepaniuk
This is only a small smattering of the diverse, talented queer poets living in Vancouver. Don’t miss their work!
Poet, editor-in-chief of Poetry is Dead magazine, and podcaster, Daniel Zomparelli is a man of many talents. I don’t know if there are any other poetry collections that so passionately embody Vancouver’s gay male culture than his Davie Street Translations. It’s poetry that’s refreshingly unpretentious, full of wit and the kind of youthful exuberance the pens irreverent tributes to queer elders. While tackling the fear of HIV and gay bashing in some poems, Zomparelli also writes lines like “You put the homo back in homeowner.” His cleverly titled Can’t Lit podcast, co-hosted by Dina Del Bucchia, often features queer Canadian writers and is an all-round fun listen. He’s also collaborated with Del Bucchia in a collection of poetry called Rom Com, which is similarly delightful, clever, and funny. Look for his fiction debut, Everything is Awful and You’re a Terrible Person, this spring.
For me, Leah Horlick is one of those writers whose work I can’t describe except for indulging in superlatives. With two collections of poetry, Horlick writes powerful, technically flawless, emotionally resonant poems that will awe you again and again. Her first book, Riot Lung, looks at different kinds of geographies: of people and Horlick’s home, Treaty Six Cree Territory in Saskatoon. For Your Own Good is a devastating but beautiful, healing collection about an abusive lesbian relationship, which she ends with these powerful lines: “I promised— / and spent my first night in the new apartment drawing / circles in salt and rain, whispering / to my old self, come here. I built this / for you. I promised.” Winner of the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBT Emerging Writers last year, Horlick also co-curates with Esther McPhee Vancouver’s queer reading series Reverb.
A rare poet raised and still living in the Lower Mainland, Billeh Nickerson grew up in Langley and now resides in Vancouver. He’s Chair of the Creative Writing Department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, in addition to his extensive poetry output. From The Asthmatic Glassblower in 2001 to 2014’s Artificial Cherry, Nickerson excels at honest, sexy poems that are smart and funny. To me, the word that best describes his poetry is mischievous. It’s fun to read poems that are rooted in the erotic but also don’t take themselves too seriously. I mean, no one else would call a haiku about hockey high “literature.” But that doesn’t mean Nickerson doesn’t also write poignantly; it just means every poem is a surprise. You should also know him as the co-editor of Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets, a ground-breaking 2007 collection.
Another writer working in poetry and academia on Coast Salish territories, Rita Wong is an associate professor in the Critical and Cultural Studies Department at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. She’s the author of four books of poetry: monkeypuzzle (1998), forage (2007), sybil unrest (2008, with fellow queer poet Larissa Lai) and undercurrent (2015) and has a Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry nomination under her belt. Wong’s poetry is the kind that teaches but never feels preachy. Frequently writing about the environment, Wong exemplifies these themes in forage, which won the 2008 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and Canada Reads Poetry 2011. She writes: “nine seeds nursed in the midst of war / sprout of life / older than me, older than tv / small green cheers, bite of sunlight, / windsalt, rainsweep, lakewise, leafcries / what the tongue & jaw know: / some minerals can’t be bought or pilled.”
Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and librarian-in-training who runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find LGBTQ+ Canadian book reviews and a queer book advice column. She also writes for Book Riot. Find her on Twitter: @canlesbrarian
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