Burning Province

by Michael Prior

McClelland & Stewart / Penguin Random House (2020)

Winner of the Canada Japan Literary Award

Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize Finalist

Raymond Souster Award Shortlist





"A journey of tenderness, testimony, and fearlessness" —Valzhyna Mort, Freeman's

"Rich with insights about memory and identity"⁠—Rigoberto González, LA Times

One of Bustle's "Quarantine Reads from Your Favorite Authors

A Read it Forward "2020 Poetry Collection Not to Be Missed"

A CBC book to "read to celebrate Asian Heritage Month in Canada"

A CBC pick to "read to celebrate Poetry Month"

A CBC poetry collection "to watch for in Spring 2020"

From the Publisher: Acerbic, moving, and formally astonishing, Michael Prior's second collection explores the enduring impact of the Japanese internment upon his family legacy and his mixed-race identity.

Amid the record-breaking wildfires that scorched British Columbia in 2015 and 2017, the poems in this collection move seamlessly between geographical and psychological landscapes, grappling with cultural trauma and mapping out complex topographies of grief, love, and inheritance: those places in time marked by generational memory "when echo crosses echo."


Burning Province is an elegy for a home aflame and for grandparents who had a complex relationship to it—but it is also a vivid appreciation of mono no aware: the beauty and impermanence of all living things. "The fireflies stutter like an apology," Prior writes; "I would be lying to you / if I didn't admit I love them."


“Ferociously beautiful…With a poised, oneiric precision…Prior folds, unfolds, and refolds the experiences of a speaker’s maternal grandparents’ confinement in a Japanese Canadian internment camp on the brink of World War II, a biracial speaker’s own engagements with prejudice, and the ever-present vexations of cultural memory in such a way that they turn into and illuminate one another everywhere…That Prior is able to recover meaning from nightmare, silence, half-stories, and dislocation is reason enough to read this ravishing collection. The humility and grace with which he handles his material’s ‘creased [and] overlapping planes’ is another.”

—Lisa Russ Spaar, Los Angeles Review of Books

"Memory is a burning province in this noctilucent book that sings the night folds of history—its forgotten fragments and repressed accounts. Haunted by the exigencies of humans and planet, Prior’s elegiac lyric narratives are as beautiful as they are necessary. His poems will entice you to see and feel the world freshly, the greatest gift literature can bestow." 

—Alice Fulton, author of Barely Composed

“In the intimate and spellbinding world of Burning Province, there are many ways the past is reborn or transformed into the present….Prior highlights the complexities of relationships to others and the self with a discerning and illuminating eye. Indeed, it is this illuminating gaze that makes Burning Province such a brilliant collection. The poems within are as searing and unforgettable as the fireflies that appear again and again throughout the book…a transformative and transcendent experience.”

—Wendy Chen, Poetry Northwest

“Prior’s skill as a poet lies in his ability to both shape into being and rupture existing ideologies of the land and what it shelters—his poems upend preconceived notions of the pastoral. Fresh, crisp, and alive, this book is essential reading—if not for the breathless beauty of its lines, then for its historical revelations. Prior ensures that the stories of those loved ones never vanish.”

—Sally Wen Mao, author of Oculus

“Lovely, elegant verse...This collection moves from strength to strength, evoking the careful folds of origami one moment and the fall of light on water another...[Prior] can also craft a moody and touching love poem like ‘The Night,’ and then pivot to ‘In Cloud Country,’ a poem of almost metaphysical reach—think John Donne beside the Fraser.”

—Tom Sandborn, Vancouver Sun

“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

Selected Poems

"A Hundred and Fifty Pounds," Poetry Foundation

"New Year," Poetry Foundation

"Georgic," Poetry Daily

"Century Plants," The New Republic

"Wakeful Things," Academy of American Poets

"My Father's Birthday is the Day Before Mine," POETRY

"Palinode," The Sewanee Review

Three Poems, The PN Review

Two Poems, Poetry Northwest

Three Poems, Narrative

"Campanology," Narrative

Two Poems, The Margins

"Minoru," The Margins

Two Poems, The Manchester Review

"In Cloud Country," The Walrus



Michael Prior is a writer and teacher. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous magazines and anthologies across North America and the UK, including Poetry, The New Republic, Narrative, Poetry Northwest, Ambit, The Margins, Poetry Ireland Review, Global Poetry Anthology (2015 and 2020), and the Academy of American Poets' Poem-A-Day series. He is a past winner of Magma Poetry's Editors' Prize, The Walrus's Poetry Prize, and Matrix Magazine's Lit POP Award for Poetry, as well as the author of two books of poems: Model Disciple (Véhicule Press, 2016), which was named one of the best books of the year by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and Burning Province (McClelland & Stewart/Penguin Random House, 2020) which won the Canada Japan Literary Award.

Michael holds graduate degrees from the University of Toronto and Cornell University. He is an Assistant Professor of English at Macalester College.