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NEW ENGLAND LITERARY NEWS

Coming together over a painful past; two poets are honored; and a pick of the week from Tochi Onyebuchi

Canisia Lubrin (above) and Serhiy Zhadan have won this year's Derek Walcott Prize for Poetry.Anna Keenan

Coming together

Over the span of six years in the late eighties and early nineties, a group of Indigenous tribes of Northern New England and the Canadian Maritime provinces gathered twice a year with white non-natives to do the hard work of repairing the painful, violent, and destructive relationship that has long been the hallmark between settlers and Indigenous people. The objective of these meetings was simple: to know and understand one another. A new book, “The Gatherings: Reimagining Indigenous-Settler Relations” (University of Toronto) written by Shirley N. Hager and Mawopiyane, a Passamaquoddy term selected to represent the 13 co-authors, tells the story of these important meetings. “We descendants of these settlers, as well as the beneficiaries of this occupation who arrived later on this continent, have gone to great lengths, continuing to this present day, to pretend that this land is our rightful home.” Native members of these meetings write of their experiences, how these times were singular opportunities for respect and dialogue. “The Gatherings were different,” writes Wayne A. Newell, “there was a willingness to exchange.” And Barb Martin writes of the emptiness that results from a non-native division between heart and mind: “When you separate the heart and the mind you create a wound. And that wound feels like emptiness.” The wise, enlightening, and heart-opening book underscores, again and again, the power of communication, of being willing to make mistakes, of deep listening.

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Poets honored

The local Arrowsmith Press, in partnership with Boston Playwrights’ Theatre and the Walcott Festival in Trinidad, recently announced the winners of the second annual Derek Walcott Prize for Poetry, awarded to a book in English or in English translation written by a living poet who is not a citizen of the U.S. published in the previous calendar year. This year’s co-winners are Canisia Lubrin for her book “The Dyzgraphxst” (McClelland & Stewart) and Serhiy Zhadan for “A New Orthography” (Lost Horse). Lubrin, born in St. Lucia and living in Canada, won the Griffin Poetry Prize for the same collection. Poet Major Jackson, this year’s judge, praised Lubrin for “a marvelous resistance to simple orthodoxies.” Ukrainian poet Zhadan’s collection was written in the aftermath of the Russo-Ukrainian War, and Jackson calls the poems “devastating and wildly charming . . . I am astounded at the large-scale heart of this work.” The prize includes a cash award of $1000, a reading at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre (this year’s taking place on September 19), and a week-long residency at Walcott’s home during the Walcott Festival.

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Wild verses

“I tell you I chopped off the head / like a roof the storms had blown / regretting that / the best / was over too soon,” writes Kylie Gellatly in her debut collection of poetry, “The Fever Poems” (Finishing Line). There’s an attunement to the natural world, its rhythms, pains, and opportunities for transcendence. An urgency defines the collection; Gellatly, who lives in Western Mass and is a Frances Perkins Scholar at Mount Holyoke, draws our attention again and again to the limits of time: “but even / sound is an unbroken expanse / among / the greater taking — / of time and fever and nothing more.” Many of the poems originally took the form of collages, and a few appear here, words snipped from books, pasted upon images of a ship, a horse. In the acknowledgments she mentions the “relationship between book and body and . . . the inspiration to cut up books,” and that energy saturates the collection. A tension rings through these poems, too, the discomfort of being separate, the fear and alarm that comes from not knowing what will come next. “The return of the sun / has aroused a feeling / akin to birdskin badly bitten.”

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Coming Out

The Atlas of Disappearing Places: Our Coasts and Oceans in the Climate Crisisby Christina Conklin and Marina Psaros (New)

Wonderlandby Zoje Stage (Mulholland)

Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantineby Nicola Twilley and Geoff Manaugh (MCD)

Pick of the Week

Alyssa Raymond at Copper Dog Books in Beverly, Massachusetts, recommends “Riot Baby” by Tochi Onyebuchi (Tordotcom): “Onyebuchi powerfully depicts the deep-rooted and perpetual racism and inhumanity of America’s past, present, and speculative dystopian future, while also advocating for love, freedom, and hope through the characters of preternaturally gifted Ella and her younger brother Kev.”