Michael Prior

This is the landscapeI was made for,where the workis a word half-recalled,unpronounceablewithout practice,or a story in whichmy great-grandfathertends a strawberry farmin a small townbeside the Pacific:the rotting mulch,the suck of mud on a boot,vines’ frost-stunted fruit;the way the oceannested driftwoodacross the frozen beach,or the time a nestof field-mice ruinedthe only rice for months—vignettes I had to hearto see. Today, I eatstrawberries in bed and sleepuntil the sun raisesits bright meniscusover the brownstones,the endless meiosisof the off-ramp,the median’s poorattempts at colour:early magnolias, narcissuses,clumps of parched crabgrass.I have heard, too, howmy great-grandfatherdied of tuberculosisin a northern city,having left his wife,his children, the farm,to travel across the countryto study the lucrativesculpture of false teeth.Somewhere, in an Ontario attic,there is a leather satchelfilled with his tools:a fine-stemmed mirrorlike a flower strippedof petals in a gameof he-loves-me-not;a steel drill, its bit as thinas a hummingbird’s beak.And somewhere,inscribed on each,a name I couldn’t saywithout having heard itsaid first. Tomorrow,when a late snowgathers along the sidewalklike bone-light in an x-rayI will stay insideand imagine its colddissolving on skin,its wet weighttugging on a heel.

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Michael Prior’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in PoetryThe New RepublicNarrative MagazinePoetry NorthwestThe Sewanee Review, PN ReviewPoetry Ireland Review, and the Academy of American Poets‘ Poem-A-Day series, among other publications. He is the author of Burning Province (McClelland & Stewart/Penguin Random House, 2020) and Model Disciple (Véhicule Press, 2016). He divides his time between Saint Paul, Minnesota and Vancouver, British Columbia.


“A magnificent collection. In a voice tenderly apocalyptic, Burning Province transmutes inherited stories and silences around the internment of Japanese-Canadians at the outbreak of World War II into a sublime testimony of resilience. These poems enact with technical conviction Simone Weil’s dictum, ‘no grandeur except in gentleness.’ Michael Prior’s fierce gentleness is an exciting and exacting talent.”
—Ishion Hutchinson, author of House of Lords and Commons

“Michael Prior’s ferociously beautiful Burning Province is driven by several narratives—some personal, some cultural, some geographic . . . Writers know that it is one thing to have an ecstatic or confusing experience, but quite another thing to create a meaningful version of such a state for the reader. That Prior is able to recover meaning from nightmare, silence, half-stories, and dislocation is reason enough to read this ravishing collection.”
—Lisa Russ Spaar, Los Angeles Review of Books

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