Burning Province

by Michael Prior

McClelland & Stewart / Penguin Random House (2020)

Winner of the Canada-Japan Literary Award
Winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize
Raymond Souster Award Shortlist

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."



Reviews of Burning Province

"A journey of tenderness, testimony, and fearlessness" 

Valzhyna Mort, Freeman's

"Rich with insights about memory and identity"⁠

Rigoberto González, LA Times

“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

“The book is brimming with technical dexterity. Moreover, Burning Province proves itself to be the type of book that teaches readers how to parse it as they move through its complex web of allusions and images…[Prior] exhibits a deftness that makes him stand out among his peers…” Jim Johnstone, The Kenyon Review


“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

“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

“[Prior] moves between past and present, interior and exterior, the real and imagined…And his expert repertoire of internal rhyme, assonance, and emblem enhances and embellishes his craft. Michael Prior’s dexterous genius is substantiated in this aesthetically well-wrought collection. ” Keith Garebian, Humber Literary Review

"Here and elsewhere, Prior telescopes the distance between the personal, the political, and geographic, his language roving between intimate observations of the self and the world – both natural and manufactured – beyond…the poetry in Burning Province is brief but densely packed, finely tuned and aware." Steven W. Beattie, Quill & Quire


Select Poems

"A Hundred and Fifty Pounds" (The Poetry Foundation)

"New Year" (The Poetry Foundation)

"Palinode" (The Sewanee Review; reprinted by Poetry Daily)

"Georgic" (Poetry Daily)

"Century Plants" (The New Republic)

"Wakeful Things" (Academy of American Poets)

"My Father's Birthday is the Day Before Mine" (Poetry)

"The Light from Canadaand two other poems (The PN Review)

"Pastoral" and one other poem (Poetry Northwest)

"After Noguchi" and two other poems (Narrative)

"Campanology" (Narrative)

"Tashme" and one other poem (The Margins)

"Minoru" (The Margins)

"Light and Years" and one other poem (The Manchester Review)

"In Cloud Country" (The Walrus)



Michael Prior is a writer and teacher. His most recent book of poems, Burning Province (McClelland & Stewart/Penguin Random House, 2020), won the Canada-Japan Literary Award, and the BC & Yukon Book Prizes' Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. He is also the author of Model Disciple (Véhicule Press, 2016), which was named one of the best books of the year by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Michael is the recipient of fellowships from the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center, the Jerome Foundation, and Hawthornden Literary Retreat. His poems have appeared in magazines and anthologies across North America and the UK, including Poetry, The New Republic, Narrative Magazine, Sewanee Review, The Margins, PN Review, Ambit, Global Poetry Anthology (2015 and 2020), and the Academy of American Poets' Poem-A-Day series. 


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



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Academic: Macalester College English Department webpage

Social: @michaelprior06 on Twitter