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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."

"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

Burning Province

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

Model Disciple

Model Disciple

by Michael Prior

Véhicule Press (2016)

Named one of the best books of the year by the CBC and The Walrus.

From the Publisher: A mesmerizing and moving first collection, Model Disciple gives us a poetry of two minds. Confounded by Japanese-Canadian legacies too painful to fully embrace, Michael Prior’s split speakers struggle to understand themselves as they submit to their reinvention: “I am all that is wrong with the Old World, / and half of what troubles the New.” Prior emerges as a poet not of identity, but identities. Invented identities, double identities, provisional identities—his art always bearing witness to a sense of self held long enough to shed at a moment’s notice. Model Disciple's Ovidean shape-shifting is driven by formal mastery and mot juste precision. It’s also one of the most commanding poetic debuts in years.

"Model Disciple comes alive in its beautiful precision of detail, defamiliarizing language, resonant music, and deep intimacy. These poems are lyrical accounts of the natural world intersecting with the manmade. They are viscerally present, and felt, written to illuminate and endure."
—Hannah Sanghee Park, author of The Same-Different

“With Model Disciple, Michael Prior launches, fully-armed, into the fray, taking on the topics of love, loss, war and cultural identity with a combination of fierceness and delicacy so rare in a first collection. Prior’s book swarms with presences both animal and human, as well as spectral; it bristles with texture and glows with unforgettable images that are laden with both ghastliness and grace.” —Alexandra Oliver, author of Meeting the Tormentors in Safeway and Let the Empire Down


Reviews for Model Disciple

“'Discomfort / enthralls me,' writes Michael Prior, a poet who has published, seemingly, everywhere, and whose list of accolades is monumental... The strengths of the collection reside in movement, and Prior’s ability to generate one image and end up somewhere surprising." 

Micheline Maylor, Quill & Quire


"Prior's [got] formal strength and self-conscious wit...His inventive approaches to self-revelation help break his work out of a purely confessional mode and give it refreshing emotional range." Abby Paige, Montreal Review of Books


"Model Disciple is an elegantly written book... The poetry’s gorgeous language and the striking participation of the grandfather more than compensate for Prior’s restraint, making this book an experience worth having." 

Rigoberto González, Los Angeles Review of Books

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