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From the Poplars
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Tuesday January 21, 2014 in Books

From the Poplars

By Cecily Nicholson

In the North Arm of British Columbia’s Fraser River lies an uninhabited island. In the midst of major industry and shipping, it is central to the waterfront of British Columbia’s original capital of New Westminster passed by daily by thousands of SkyTrain commuters. Poplar Island is lush and unspoken, but storied. It is the traditional territory of the Qayqayt First Nation. Made into property, a parcel of land belonging to the “New Westminster and Brownsville Indians,” this is the location of one of British Columbia’s first “Indian Reserves.”

This is also a place where Indigenous smallpox victims from the south coast were forced into quarantine, substandard care and buried. As people were decimated the land was taken and exchanged between levels of government. The trees were clear-cut for industry, beginning with shipbuilding during the First World War. The island still serves as booming anchorage for local sawmills.

From the Poplars is the poetic outcome of archival research, and of listening to the land and the stories of a place. It is a meditation on an unmarked, twenty-seven and a half acres of land held as government property: a monument to colonial plunder on the waterfront of a city, like many cities, built upon erasures. From an emplaced poet and resident of New Westminster, this text contributes to present narratives on decolonization. It is an honouring of river and riparian density, and a witness to resilience, tempering a silence that inevitably will be heard.

demonstration parcels bought and sold repeatedly
as the record shows, stolen

quarantine and bury there the government

not taking graves into account
warships were built view down a launch ramp

Read extracts from this book on Meta-Talon.

ISBN 13: 9780889228566 | ISBN 10: 0889228566
5.25 W x 8.75 H inches | 104 pp pages
$16.95 CAN / $16.95 US
Rights: World
Backlist | Poetry | Bisac: POE011000
Paperback Edition


From the Poplars is a compelling blend of poetic research, personal infusion, and historical subjectivity while remaining urgent and insightful. It’s a call to arms for environmental consciousness, and a text monument of loss and shame.”
– Rabble.ca

“Nicholson writes through and around Poplar Island, working from historical research, observation and an eye towards social justice, exploring what Dorothy Livesay famously called the ‘documentary poem,’ providing a kind of poetic, historical and critical portrait of the island, its people and those who have impacted upon either or both. … a long poem that does more than simply replicating information, but using that information to help shape a series of collage movements in the form of the long poem.”
– The Small Press Book Review

“[Nicholson’s] meticulous reportage allows language itself to reveal the cruel ironies and paradoxes of our place in the world.”
– Garry Thomas Morse

“In this subtle construction, Cecily Nicholson invigorates the long documentary poem. Through the investigation of the history of use and ownership of a seemingly surplus space – Poplar Island in the Fraser River in the deindustrializing area of New Westminster – Nicholson poetically points to the central social and economic contradictions of the present. Like her previous book, Triage, From the Poplars is a work of great conviction and poetic attention that activates what T.J. Demos calls ‘the force of the political in art.’”
– Jeff Derksen, author of The Vestiges and a New Westminster Secondary School graduate

“This work that is this place, British and Columbia. Oh bravery where the town of towns is un/covered, o beloved place of my youth, where injustice, where absence, where silence. With a break into language that un-settles the ideology of settlement, Cecily Nicholson flenses the historical surface: this is a writer unafraid of investigation, in whose hands juxtaposition is an art, a poet tuned enough in the ear, to create a rhythm that embodies what I call L-A-N-G-U-A/lyric. Nicholson not only extends the praxis of the line, she crafts a new subaltern blues. The pages of this book vibrate; they are the material of the genuinely new: growing up here by the Fraser, attending high school up on the hill, I’d hear about ‘what happened on the Island.’ This book illuminates. Nicholson is one of a very few poets whose skill combines tender precision with flint-like intellect, and her arrow pierces. I set out to read From the Poplars in measured fashion, taking my time. The book took hold and I could not put it down. The last section of this collection scalds with discovery: we journey to The Island, ‘under bridges between ramps across from the parking lot’ and become ephemera … This is poetry to change you, to stop you in your tracks, those that run creosote soaked, down by the river. You will say the words of this book out loud, again and again. You will get in your car, get on that bus, you will board the train and visit the town of towns, oh ghosts, that sing. And, Cecily.”
– Renée Sarojini Saklikar, author of children of air india, un/authorized exhibits and interjections


Winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize (B.C. Book Prizes, 2015)

About the Contributors

Cecily Nicholson

Cecily Nicholson, from small-town Ontario via Toronto and South Bend, relocated to the Pacific coast almost two decades ago. On Musqueam-, Squamish-, and Tsleil-Waututh-occupied lands known as Vancouver, she has worked, since 2000, in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, most recently as administrator for the artist-run centre and mental health resource, Gallery Gachet. A part of the Joint Effort prison abolitionist group and a member of the Research Ethics Board for Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Cecily was also the 2017 Ellen Warren Tallman Writer in Residence at Simon Fraser University. She is the author of Triage and From the Poplars, winner of the 2015 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize.

Wayside Sang

Cecily Nicholson

From the Poplars cover
From the Poplars

Cecily Nicholson


Cecily Nicholson

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We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts; the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF); and the Province of British Columbia through the British Columbia Arts Council for our publishing activities.

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