Winner of the 2008 Governor-General’s Award for Poetry
More to Keep Us Warm is Jacob Scheier’s first book length publication and for his efforts he was awarded the 2008 Governor-General’s Award for Poetry; being awarded this major literary prize for a first book is more common in the poetry category than others, but make no mistake, this is still a rare and impressive feat. Aside from being an impressive collection of poems, which it certainly is, the properties of the physical book itself are impressive. With the current controversy surrounding this year’s winner of the Scotiabank Giller Prize I was truly taken aback by how a high quality book can enhance the reading experience; published by ECW, this volume uses a very thick and heavy bond paper with the grain running horizontally to reduce stress on the spine of the book. The writing in this book is breath of fresh air in the Canadian poetry scene. These are poems that blends humour, pain, love, and loss on almost every page.
Right from page 1 the author had me hooked. The major thing that really struck me was how funny many of these poems were, which, unfortunately, is rare in an award winning poetry collection; the humour used is very tongue in cheek and subtle in the context of the individual poem or in the sequence as a whole. Another stylistic tool that is interesting in Scheier’s writing is his use of elements taken from post-modern fiction, such as the self-aware piece of writing or interaction with the reader. Thematically these poems are tied together by an examination of love and loss through the lens of isolation and loneliness. Most of the poems in this volume straddle the fence between lyric and narrative. While many pieces have some kind of “story” to tell, it is often done with lyrical language and style. This is an emerging trend in North American poetry but More to Keep Us Warm is without a doubt the best example of it I have seen so far. And last but definitely not least, the writing is very effective and accessible to anyone who may pick this book up.
This book is 75 pages of pure craftsmanship. Jacob Scheier is one of many new voices on the CanLit poetry scene; along with contemporaries like Stephanie Bolster, George Elliot Clarke, Roo Borson, and Anne Simpson a new chapter is being etched into the CanLit canon. The unfortunate thing for poets, which is really no change from decades past, is that it is almost impossible to survive solely as a creator of poetry unless you live hand-to-mouth on Canada Council grants; most poets moonlight as journalists, professors, editors, publishers, or whatever else pays the bills. Poets write poetry because they love the genre, because they have something to say that can only be expressed in verse, and because it is the most pure form of literature and that, without a doubt, is why Canadian writers produce such fine collections. I look forward to following Mr. Scheier’s long and, what I foresee to be, successful career.