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John Steffler was the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada from 2006 to 2008. His previous books of poetry include The Grey IslandsThat Night We Were Ravenous, winner of the Atlantic Poetry Prize, and Helix: New and Selected Poems, winner of the Newfoundland and Labrador Poetry Prize. Steffler is also the author of the award-winning novel The Afterlife of George Cartwright.

Lookout

McClelland & Stewart
2011 Shortlist
Canada

Judges’ Citation

The playful spontaneity that enlivens John Steffler’s Lookout moves through the poems like wind, revealing both their flexibility and their sturdiness.

The playful spontaneity that enlivens John Steffler’s Lookout moves through the poems like wind, revealing both their flexibility and their sturdiness. With a passionate naturalist’s trained and ever-curious eye, Steffler is interested in what happens both in and out of sight. In language that ranges from affable story-telling to tough, spare, startling lyrics, he probes the complex collisions between Nature and humankind without inflicting upon his subject any of the ecological ranting, self-dramatizing grief, or faux-mysticism that infects so much contemporary ‘nature poetry.’ Modest, plainspoken, and unsentimental in stance, his poems are at the same time untethered to the literal, which allows for sudden and unnerving swerves, poems that decisively and unpredictably break the membrane between realms, as when a vole with ‘a laugh like a snowplow’s blade’ begins to speak, or rifts appear in a loved one’s memory, allowing reality and fantasy, past and present, to dissolve into one another. Steffler’s quality of attention is so fierce and so assured that we trust it to lead us into new and often unsettling territory. In Lookout, his masterful inter-leaving of physical, philosophical, and psychological worlds entices us into a dream of wakefulness we recognize as our own.