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Ken Babstock was born in Newfoundland and raised in the Ottawa Valley. He is the author of three previous collections of poetry, including Airstream Land Yacht which won the Trillium Book Award, was shortlisted for the 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award and was named a Globe and Mail Top 100 book. Ken Babstock lives in Toronto.

Methodist Hatchet was also shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award.

Methodist Hatchet

House of Anansi
2012 Winner
Canada
Shortlisted in:

Judges’ Citation

The feature of Airstream Land Yacht that seems most striking, on a first reading, is its range: here we find a poet who can do almost anything

The feature of Airstream Land Yacht that seems most striking, on a first reading, is its range: here we find a poet who can do almost anything, both formally and in his exploration of such subject matter as romantic love, landscape, the body, the city, physical pain and a joyful awareness of the sensory details of a world full of marvels and riddles. Yet no matter what his subject matter is, or how he chooses to approach it, he never settles for effect: Babstock can be terse, darkly funny, tender, elegiac, wise, mysterious, but he is always fresh and always honest.

On a closer acquaintance, however, it is Babstock’s exemplary compassion that dominates this extraordinary collection. His is a poetry that sees through our errors and wishful thinking, a poetry that recognises that ‘it’s what we think we saw that sticks, never what we see’, yet, in a series of poems of formal and philosophical rigour, he is able to conclude that ‘we should be held and forgiven’. Airstream Land Yacht is a book with a vision, one in which a reasoned celebration emerges:

The earth on the roof. Voles over shingles.
Seven kinds of moss softening the gables.
And inside, each step a ride
On the backs of sea birds to a bed on a floor all sky.

Judges’ Citation

Babstock is the live wire in the gene pool: stirring things up, rocking boats, disjoining easier conjunctions, jolting the culture’s DNA.

Babstock is the live wire in the gene pool: stirring things up, rocking boats, disjoining easier conjunctions, jolting the culture’s DNA. From sea-and-skyscapes literally lettered, from the suspect core of our ‘décors? (‘lost heart’ informs that fashion’s stock and trade), he winds past mere mundanities to find the world again, with words for his divining wands. ‘Money’s the more virtual virtual,’ Babstock writes. ‘I don’t talk this way in Real Life.’ Cable-stitched by shopping channels, across northernmost America and more, desire is wired: With HGTV’s IV, or the PC’s ICU, we feed our merchandizing minds. ‘We bought this stuff,’ he says. Disclosure’s what he’s after, as wary of the cosy center as of the so-called cutting-edge. But get a load of those poetic closures: master craft in ‘Wikileaks and sea smoke’ weaving worlds of words together. Man of letters, he remarks the X’s on workmen’s safety vests; the V’s descending out of Gander, headed for the kind of down discounted in an Army-Navy store. A shapely mind will note the uppers, too; they’re cut with aspirin and talc. This guy is one ferocious logophile. A signature device, the ‘disconnected current gauge,’ trips all the switches: current cut off into currency – but also presents. It was ‘a gift,’ writes Babstock, with ‘its needle stilled between / ‘Reverse clips’ and ‘Start charge.’ Consult it / and it shivers on a hash mark.’ Thus, in a flash, the disused item (mere décor) becomes occasion for a gift: the wordsmith talent, not the dollar sign, with other hashes hinted, other hushes marked. The old and new worlds hackable in just one comprehensive stun, this shock of shiver to be had. Methodist Hatchet lets us have it. Thus do local gifts turn into global ones.