Winner of the 2018 Lansdowne Prize for Poetry
It was a long silence that brought me to the erasure poem. Not mine, but my brother’s, during his many months in a coma. I came across a notebook of his—a pocketsized, handwritten field guide of prairie grasses. I read it for companionship, signs of consciousness, attention. I read it for the rhythms of his still and distant hand…. I was reading a taxonomy of grief: silique drifted into soliloquy.
Between 2008 and 2014, while her brother was in a lengthy coma, award-winning poet Jennifer Still engaged in a private collaboration with the art and wonder that was his handwritten field guide of prairie grasses. The result: the stunning works of poetry and imagery encapsulated in Comma.
Still was moved by an overarching impulse of grief to create these poems. In the brittle lexicon of botany, and in the hum of the machines keeping her brother alive, she developed a hands-on method of composition that plays with the possibilities of what can be ‘read’ on a page. Comma enacts a state of transformation and flux, all in an effort to portray the embodiment of grief and regeneration that can be achieved in the physical breakdown and reassembly of lyric poetic forms.
Praise for Comma:
“Comma is a living, breathing field guide to the unconscious—Still’s poems flicker and leap from the page. This collection is an immersive, tactile wonder, a compassionate, steadfast companion: a truly remarkable exploration by a truly remarkable artist.” —Christine Fellows, singer/songwriter/poet and author of Burning Daylight
“Comma offers an unaccountably delicate experience. Yet these deft images and words are like slivers piercing situations and sensibility with guileless insight. The grace with which Jennifer Still’s poems express experience is magical. Read the poetry as you might search for a special midnight star, by attending to the edges of vision (and words) where brightness shines best.” —Jeanne Randolph, author of Shopping Cart Pantheism
“Jennifer Still writes in th ekey of “e”: ellipses, elision, elusion, erasure, effusion, ephemera. She makes (and unmakes) poems out of the pollen and electrons, out of eraser dust and memory, emending the margins with invisible stitches in the effervescing, mineral light of grief.” —Elizabeth Philips
Winner of the 2018 Lansdowne Prize for Poetry /Judges’ Comments:
“Jennifer Still’s Comma is a multi-modal work of poetry that deploys collage, erasure and embroidery. Surprising at every turn, the reader is invited to feel their way through the poetic fields explored by the author. The reader will perceive general themes, but these themes also tend to fade into the wider poem space. Perhaps this is what enables Comma to exist as both a testament to lived experience and a poetic manifesto that resists closure and other formal constraints to redefine the experience of meaning.”
—Melissa Bull, Christine Leclerc, and Steven Urquhart, judges, Lansdowne Prize for Poetry / Prix Lansdowne de poésie, Manitoba Book Awards.
Press Coverage for Comma:
“Still muses on the act of writing, quoting extensively from other writers and examining her own practice in the face of grief.” —Toronto Star
“Comma is a symphony of breath, of space, of erasure but not of destruction.” —Contemporary Verse 2
“Still speaks deeply to human nature through flowers and grasses; out of her brother’s text, she has written an indelible field guide to humans.” —Tanis Franco, Maisonneuve
“Comma is a field guide for taking a breath in the daily rush-hour of life and for finding the poem in the pauses of the day.” —Rebecca Danos, A Harmonic Analysis
“Jennifer Still’s latest is a tender document of writing-through: through a traumatic family episode, and through the text of another, foregrounding the bodily saliency of each.” —Cam Scott, League of Canadian Poets blog
“A brilliant & complexly moving book.” —Douglas Barbour, Eclectic Ruckus
“Still maintains an intense engagement with etymologies and word residues: shifting, omitting, or reordering letters pushes us beyond usual dimensions of sense on the path to discovery. She lightens the first “m” in the book’s title, Comma, to enable the punctuation mark and her brother’s condition to inhabit the same word. She takes hope in the possibility that a coma is not necessarily a full stop, that poetry has the capacity to heal.” —Michael Roberson, Canadian Literature
“Still’s pages open like seedpods. Or like chrysalises — papery husks inside that transformation has taken place, allowing something new and alive to emerge. Rather than directly showing us this creature, she teaches us to listen for the wings.” —Madelaine Caritas Longman, Contemporary Verse 2
Beautiful Books: Comma by Jennifer Still —All Lit Up
Jennifer Still’s first collection, Saltations, was nominated for three Saskatchewan Book Awards. Her second collection, Girlwood, was a finalist for the 2012 Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry and the first-prize winner of the John V. Hicks Manuscript Award. That same year, she was awarded the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer, and in 2013, she won the Prairie Fire/Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award. Still has served as faculty for the Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity Wired Writing Studio and is a poetry editor for CV2. She was the 2015 University of Winnipeg Carol Shields Writer-in- Residence and will be the 2017 Writer/Storyteller-in-Residence at the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture. She lives in Winnipeg.