The Canthius Pleasures Project

Illness and joy have had a strange and often fraught relationship in my life. My sickest years in my twenties, when I had to stop working and attending classes for several years, were also the time I came out and discovered writing. When I was on medical leave a couple of years ago, swimming outdoors was a balm when I could work myself up to leaving the house. But I lived in constant worry that someone would see me doing something fun and think I should be back at work already.

It has been hard for me to hold the simultaneity of illness and joy without making it an either/or, and even harder to trust that other people will do the same. It has been hard for me to remember that I deserve rest and pleasure outside of the frame of ‘earning’ them—either by being so sick I have to be in bed, or by being productive enough that I can see them as rewards.

I’m so happy two poems from the Garbage Poems have found a home in the Canthius Pleasures Project, especially Blessing for the swim selfie which is the most directly I’ve written about illness and joy. This eclectic online project explores pleasure from a feminist and intersectional perspective, and I am LOVING it so far – I adore reading about the why and how of artists’ processes when writing and creating about pleasure. I can’t wait to make my way through the rest of it.

With thanks to April White for their illustration work for the ongoing project, and for the underwater swimming selfie research (which I used to call “research” with scare quotes because how could research be fun?) which profoundly altered my ability to look at images of my own body with pleasure or interest instead of fear.

[Image ID: Photograph of a laptop and keyboard on a wooden desk, surrounded by carefully arranged rows of garbage including cans, bottles, chip bags, cigarette boxes, cups, and bottle caps.]

I am writing a spell for your nervous system

This year’s Sparks Literary Festival was cancelled once during our Snowmageddon State of Emergency this January, and rescheduled for late March. We all know how that turned out. The festival is wonderful, and it’s one of many recent cultural losses. I’d entirely forgotten about the associated poetry contest until I got the email saying I’d won first place. I was more moved than I probably should have been. I think I’d forgotten that unadulterated good news existed. Congratulations also to Grant Loveys and Maggie Burton. Sparks asked for a video of the poem to post, so my artist friend/collaborator April White and I worked together to create this video. Which is to say, I had an idea, and then she jumped in and actually made this beautiful thing. Thank you April. The poem was written during an entirely different time, but it feel eerily relevant right now. ❤

Or view video on Vimeo here. Text in the video is the poem below.

I am writing a spell for your nervous system

and hiding it in a poem.
I know you’re trying to stitch

the world back together
while it breathes and keeps

breaking. Like you. Another
heatwave, hurricane. Grief

gurgles like a sump pump.
The arctic on fire. Thirsty birds

of industry, mouthing
dry wells. Bulldozers

in the olive grove. Prehensile
suits in a sealed building,

deciding who deserves
to be a person. Baby monitors

tuned to the evening news.
Geologic time is breathing

hard. Your nerves: clenched
shut like barnacles and still

flinching. I am casting a road
out of the city. Stop waiting

for CNN to self-soothe.
Stop memorizing formulas

for herbal abortion, just
in case, even though

some futures are no longer
unimaginable. Here

is a highway that vanishes
behind you like wet footprints.

Gravel pullout, the rule
of three boulders across

an unmarked road. The car door
closing with a reverse bang,

retracting into itself
the existence of cars.

Because you are in a poem,
rusted mile-markers appear

only for as long as you walk
the dirt road towards them.

Now a marshy spot, now
lily pads, now wooden pallets

thrown down for you to cross.
Labrador tea and pitcher plants

flanking a narrow trail, and
wasn’t it ever only this?

An opening in the trees.
Worn stones sloping down

to the flickering mirror of a pond.
Step out of the idea of clothes,

into a shallow dive.

with your reflection—and
gone. A beat later, slick

and blinking, as if from a dark
room: somersault, scissor kick,

glide. Your body diamond-tipped,
a stylus polishing a groove.

Practice this skin. A dark map
back here, sparking, neural.

When it is time, walk up out
of the pond, dripping with

what made you. The world
leans down over cupped palms

to blow you dry. When you are
ready for clothes to exist,

clothes. The path winks
into existence before you.

Eventually you think,
I had a car. Onward,

the messy heartbeat
of the world. And whatever

work you have to do,
you begin again.

Writers at Woody Point

I’m pretty thrilled to be reading at this Riddle Fence launch on August 15th in Woody Point. Why? So. Many. Reasons.

First of all, I’ve always secretly wanted to read at Writers at Woody Point even though it seemed highly unlikely (I am not a famous novelist or Jeremy freaking Dutcher). This is as close as I’m going to get, and it’s pretty swell. Also, what a festival. Seriously.

Also, Lorna Crozier was one of my first poetry profs—a big influence and support when I was first writing poetry over 20 years ago. She was a phenomenal teacher. I was lucky to learn from her, and am thrilled to be reading with her (and see her again).

I’ve been trying to get poems in Riddle Fence for a while now, and it’s one of those small things that makes me feel like this place finally wants to claim me a little bit as a writer. This province can be a complicated place to make your home when you’re not from here, and it means a lot to be recognized by rad local institutions like Riddle Fence.

And, not only do I have poems in this issue (from the Garbage Poems project), but they’re being published alongside three of April White‘s colour illustrations. She’s been painting the pieces of garbage I used to create the poems, and I cannot wait to see these in print for the first time.




It’s been a rough day on social media. I cried watching so many friends disclose or pointedly refuse to disclose sexual violence of all kinds. Either way, you’re all amazing and brave. I believe you. And I support your right to not share anything you don’t want to. I cried trying to figure if I wanted to say anything, and what, and whether I wanted to be doing that on facebook, and whether my experiences counted, and how it’s not okay that people should feel pressured to talk about their trauma for other people’s education, and how for so many people this is compounded by racialized violence (and other intersections of oppression) in ways I’ll never experience.

In an interesting collision of worlds, I came across the poem below while working on an application. It’s one of a series about swimming, written using words transcribed from garbage pulled out of a swimming hole. I was writing fancy grant-lingo things about how my poems about swimming aren’t entirely unconnected to the other more difficult themes in my manuscript (head injury, chronic illness, abuse, etc.), partly because they’re a record of something I do to stay okay when I’m going through or writing about difficult topics. But sometimes the two threads meet explicitly.

It had been a long time since I’d read this poem, and I was surprised to find it comforted me. Which shouldn’t be surprising. But it was.

This one is for the part of me that still needed to know it wasn’t my fault (and sometimes still does). Maybe it’s for you, too, if you want it to be. Take good care of yourselves, dear people.

[Note: A Mikvah is a Jewish ritual bath.]


Middle Pool, Where We Submerge Three Times Like the Mikvah

Let’s go to the water and get clean.
That slow cold current,
just before it all falls into the sea.
There. Let’s tip forward
and go under.

First time for the body: that chill,
that simple sport of returning
to the skin.

Again for the mind.
You who decided to let yourself
be curious—let’s bypass thinking.
Let’s quit the facts for a while.
Let’s risk our leading brand sunlight,
our pasteurized chances of having it all,
to tip, to turn, to twist open
under water.

One more time
for that which is wild in each of us,
the simple particles of being,
removed from the packaging
of thirst and hope.

After, you are clean as dishes.
Your skin sparkling cold.

Inside, what could be
a small window opening. No,
less than that. Light comes in
as if through a straw.

And what is this?
This small I’m sorry
in one palm and it
was not you
in the other.

Say it to yourself. Say it
to your face, your throat—
I’m sorry—say it where it hurts.
Say it for your gentle hands
when you did not know
to be a fighter. For all the things
you could not say. Or,
calculating costs, did not.

Allez go! Get it in your eyes,
in your hair, on your all-possible skin.
Know this, breathe it, if only for these wet seconds.

Go under and under and under, return
again and again and again. Break the seal
on the brilliant verb of your body.

Room’s 40th Anniversary Anthology

This is fun. One of my poems originally published in Room Magazine made it into their 40th anniversary anthology, alongside many other writers I admire a great deal. The magazine is raising money to cover printing costs by pre-selling the anthology (plus other perks) on IndiGoGo.

Here’s how they describe the project: “A collection of our favourite writing from Room magazine (formerly Room of One’s Own magazine), Canada’s oldest feminist literary journal. Room’s 40th Anniversary Anthology will explore the evolution of Canadian feminism over the past forty years, as told through fiction, poetry, and essays by some of Canada’s best writers (all who identify as women, genderqueer, trans, or non-binary).”

Writers announced so far are: Gail Anderson-Dargatz, Marie Annharte Baker, Juliane Okot Bitek, Kate Braid, Nicole Brossard, Cyndia Cole, Ivan Coyote, Lucas Crawford, Su Croll, Lorna Crozier, Danielle Daniel, Amber Dawn, Junie Désil, Sandy Frances Duncan, Dorothy Elias, Christine Estima, Tanya Evanson, barbara findlay, Cynthia Flood, Chantal Gibson, Leona Gom, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Nancy Holmes, Anna Humphrey, Mindy Hung, Carole Itter, Helen Kuk, Matea Kulić, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Doretta Lau, Evelyn Lau, Jen Sookfong Lee, Annabel Lyon, Vera Manuel, Daphne Marlatt, Cara-Lyn Morgan, Erín Moure, Susan Musgrave, Alessandra Naccarato, Kellee Ngan, Monica Pacheco, M NourbeSe Philip, Eden Robinson, Devyani Saltzman, Sigal Samuel, Nilofar Shidmehr, Carolyn Smart, Anna Swanson, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Audrey Thomas, Ayelet Tsabari, Chimwemwe Undi, Jia Qing Wilson-Yang.

CBC Poetry Prize shortlist

1SHORT-Anna-Swanson-BBA poetry thing happened to me! Several of my poems have been shortlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize. I always follow this prize closely, so it was a thrill even to be included in the longlist. When I found out about the shortlist, I was so giddy I couldn’t stop dancing around the kitchen while talking on the phone to the very nice person from the CBC.

Check out the five shortlisted poets here, including Emily Nilsen who, as it happens, went to the same very small high school as me in Vancouver.

CBC is one of my heroes, so it feels like big news to me. Also, this is as close as I’ll ever come to being on a baseball card. So, wow.

Stay tuned for the final announcement next Tuesday.

UPDATE: I didn’t win, but it was still thrilling to be shortlisted. A big congratulations to Mark Wagenaar on his winning poem.

Arc Poem of the Year shortlist

Little blue house in Flatrock, NLI was thrilled recently to find out that one of my poems was shortlisted for the Arc Poem of the Year contest. It’s an odd little poem that I wrote in Flatrock, NL, this past summer, when I was just visiting Newfoundland on a writing grant and hadn’t yet upended my entire life and moved here.

I stayed a small blue house right on the ocean. Nearby was a swimming hole at the river which was populated at night by teenagers who drank beer and energy drinks and jumped off cliffs and poured entire containers of Sunlight dish soap into the waterfall to make bubbles. In the mornings I went there to swim, naked if it was early enough. Then I collected some of the trash that had gathered, and brought it home. At some point I decided to transcribe the text from the beer bottles and chip bags and soggy cigarette containers, and to use this as source text to write about the river. It wasn’t found poetry, or erasure poetry, exactly; I refused count how many Blue Star beer cans I’d collected. But I limited myself to the scope of the words found on those cans and labels.

It was fun. And addictive. And strangely informative. I learned that beer is about choice and vitamin water is strangely verbose — hello trigonometry. Bubble bath was the source of wonderful. I learned that pronouns shape so much of what I could write, and how. That it was good to learn to do without me or I for a while. That cigarette packages knew a lot about health conditions. That everything was trademarked and licensed and imported for somebody, and not a significant source of a lot of things. And that potato chips were the only ones who mentioned love.

IMG_2047The poem that was shortlisted, Middle Pool, was one in a series that came out of that accidental daily writing prompt.

In conclusion, I blame the beautiful chaos of my recent life on a little blue house by the ocean in Flatrock and that early morning swimming hole. And I’m not at all sorry.

UPDATE: While it didn’t win, my poem was chosen as an Editor’s Pick and appears in the ARC Summer 2015 issue.


Festival International de la Poésie!

Il me fait vraiment plaisir d’annoncer que je vais participer au 27ème Festival International de la Poésie a Trois Rivières!

This coming October, I’ve been invited to Trois Rivières for one of the world’s largest international poetry festivals. I am thrilled beyond belief, and curious to find out how much French I actually still understand. Apparently the festival draws an audience of over 38,000 people, which I find somewhat mind-bending. We are talking about poetry, right? There are poetry picnics, poetry dinners, poetry statues, poetry walks, poetry installations, poetry in the park events, poetry talks, family poetry events, and a fantastic variety of poetry and art programs for schools.

Apparently every year on Valentine’s day, the mayor of Trois Rivièresgoes out to the statue of the unknown poet outside city hall and leaves a bouquet of flowers. For real. This is a town that loves poetry. And it is my very good fortune to get to spend several days there basking in it.

One of the most exciting bits is that the festival is hiring a translator to translate 15 of my poems into French. For three days I’ll read my poems at events, and then someone else will read out the French translations. I can only barely believe I’m going to get the chance to hear my own words in the only other language I even mildly understand. I think it will be quite a moving experience.

I’m nervous about my French skills, which haven’t been exercised very much in recent years. I speak only enough French to be dangerous, but I’ll try to be dangerous as often as possible.

For a schedule of events, you can see my events page or look at the festival website (I’m reading on October 6th and 8th).

À bientôt!

August 18th is Butch Appreciation Day

Apparently, today is Butch Appreciation Day. Since I’m home sick, and unlikely to be appreciating anyone in person, I’d like to send out a butch appreciation poem to the world in the hopes that it makes someone out there smile. All you fine, fabulous, fierce butches – consider yourself appreciated. I’m so very very glad you exist.



Shirt Collar

You’re standing by the mirror,
and I watch your fingers
slip cufflinks through buttonholes.
Your shoulders ease back,
as if the world finally had room for them,
as if your skin fit differently
under this shirt. Your small breasts
press out, unexpected
in these starched folds.

For you I would learn
the forgotten motions of my father’s hands,
the foreign ritual of folding a tie
in on itself, anything
for an excuse to reach behind your neck,
slide my fingers up under your shirt collar,
that sharp cool crease.