The best Canadian anthologies for social justice, women, and the environment

Who am I?

I love gathering poets together to celebrate different causes. In fact, I hosted a weekly literary radio show, Gathering Voices, for seven years and published a book/cd collection, Gathering Voice. Since 1972, I have been publishing poetry as well as editing anthologies that collect differing voices, as an activist and poet/editor: gathering voices for women, nature, and social justice is my passion. Given the immensity of suffering in the war on Ukraine, I was galvanized to gather together poems in solidarity with Ukrainians. The anthology, co-edited with Richard-Yves Sitoski, was launched 3 months after the invasion began: a huge endeavor that included 48 activist poets.

I edited...

Poems in Response to Peril: An Anthology in Support of Ukraine

By Penn Kemp, Richard-Yves Sitoski,

Book cover of Poems in Response to Peril: An Anthology in Support of Ukraine

What is my book about?

Canadian poets Penn Kemp and Richard-Yves Sitoski have co-edited Poets in Response to Peril, this anthology that brings together 61 poems by 48 Canadian activist poets responding to such current crises. 

These passionate, often heartbreaking, poems invoke sunflowers and broken earth; intimacy and grief; falling bombs and the fragility of flesh; AK-47s and a bride’s bouquet. Gathering voices in the white heat of the moment, this anthology couldn’t be more timely or more necessary. The book continues with an ongoing YouTube playlist of videos submitted by poets expressing solidarity with those afflicted by war (YouTube > Poets in Response to Peril). Profits go toward PEN Ukraine.

The books I picked & why

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Worth More Standing: Poets and Activists Pay Homage to Trees

By Christine Lowther (editor),

Book cover of Worth More Standing: Poets and Activists Pay Homage to Trees

Why this book?

I love this anthology for its activism, all too necessary now! Poets, both settler and Indigenous, pay tribute to trees through reflections on the past, connections to the present, and calls for the protection of our future. In Worth More Standing: Poets and Activists Pay Homage to Trees, celebrated poets and activists pay homage to the ghosts of lost forests and issue a rallying cry to protect remaining ancient giants and restore uncolonized spaces. Themes of connection, ecology, grief, and protection are explored through poems about trees and forests written by an impressive number of influential poets.

Heartwood: Poems for the Love of Trees

By Lesley Strutt (editor),

Book cover of Heartwood: Poems for the Love of Trees

Why this book?

Trees are being cleared at a faster rate than any time in history! How can we possibly reverse this? How can poetry raise awareness of the value of our forests, worth more standing? This anthology, in its breadth and scope, offers readers hope, and prompts us to action on behalf of our trees. The anthology features an important introduction by Diana Beresford-Kroeger, author of The Global Forest and renowned expert on trees.

This anthology continues my theme of activism through poetry to raise awareness about our threatened environment. With over 100 poems and contributions from poets all over the country, Heartwood is a tribute to and celebration of the timeless impact of nature on Canadian poetry. “We must turn to the poets to expand dreams. This is because trees are the parents to the child deep within us. Forests bear silent witness to the tides of time upon which we will be judged. Trees are a gift of the galaxies, their fabric a web of stardust. The web holds nothing, a void from nowhere. This is the playground of the poets, the great plane of creation. The entire music of the universe is held in the trees. It is amplified again, again, and again within the forest. To listen to this music is to meditate. Taken alone, this is sufficient reason to make all forests sacred. And us accountable.” - Diana Beresford-Kroeger, author of The Sweetness of a Simple Life and The Global Forest: 40 ways trees can save us.

Resistance: Righteous Rage in the Age of #Metoo

By Sue Goyette (editor),

Book cover of Resistance: Righteous Rage in the Age of #Metoo

Why this book?

This anthology is as powerful as it is still necessary: beware. Some pieces may be triggering, but they raised my awareness and empathy. These collected poems from writers across the globe declare one common theme: resistance. By exploring sexual assault and violence in their work, each writer resists the patriarchal systems of power that continue to support a misogynist justice system that supports abusers. In doing so, they reclaim their power and their voice. Resistance underscores the validity of all women’s experiences, and the importance of dignifying such experiences in voice, however that may sound. Because once survivors speak out and disrupt their pain, there is no telling what else they can do.

Voicing Suicide

By Daniel G. Scott,

Book cover of Voicing Suicide

Why this book?

Voicing Suicide is a collection of poems about suicide and its impact on lives. When my stepdaughter killed herself, I desperately needed an anthology like this. Decades later, the poems here still resonate and console me. The book arises out of a conviction that poetry offers an opportunity to understand some of the difficult aspects of suicide by allowing us to give it voice; through memory, and elegy, through an honest declaration of the draw of death. In poetry, we can enter the spaces suicide shapes around loss and sorrow and give it voice. Poems can speak to the loss of a loved one, to considering suicide, to struggling to make sense of suicide and poems can offer the words of those who have suicided. Although intense and sometimes painful, the book is honest, in moments delicate and tender. It offers an important exploration of suicide by writers who have been close to suicide and speak of it without disguise. Voicing Suicide also provides a short guide to relevant resources.

On the Storm/In the Struggle: Poets on Survival

By Adebe DeRango-Adem (editor),

Book cover of On the Storm/In the Struggle: Poets on Survival

Why this book?

This anthology attempts to answer ongoing questions about struggle in poems that engaged, challenged, and comforted me. What might survival sound or look like to us in our daily lives? Is it loud, refusing silence, demanding action? Or quiet, interior? What does surviving feel like in the body, this long into the pandemic? What techniques have helped us exist, continue to bear witness, learn to live with illness, grief, and pain? Is survival the continual interrogation of inequity and oppressive structures? What happens when we get tired of fighting?

Survival may very well be a composite of things; both a tending to one’s inner life and to the processing of life events, as well as the will to act, retrieve momentum. It is also a plurality/multiplicity of practices that serve to keep us well—as persons and with respect to our communities, the ongoing project of social justice/civil rights, which involves everyone. How could we think of survival as a community, even as we are forced to survive apart? How does a survival against differ from a surviving with? Is it possible to frame the imagination as a mechanism of survival—the will, for example, to imagine living in a world where we can all thrive and be who we are? Is surviving always a matter of “resilience” or resistance, or can it also be the ability to dream of a world of peace?

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in social justice, poetry, and Canadians?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about social justice, poetry, and Canadians.

Social Justice Explore 39 books about social justice
Poetry Explore 204 books about poetry
Canadians Explore 23 books about Canadians

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Undrowned, Octavia's Brood, and No Voice Too Small if you like this list.