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Exculpatory Lilies Shortlisted Susan Musgrave Award 2023

Exculpatory Lilies

McClelland & Stewart, 2022
ISBN 978-0-7710-9900-7
ebook ISBN 978-0-7710-9930-4

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“Grief is a willingness to be claimed by a story bigger than ourselves.” Many of these poems were written in response to the death of Musgrave’s husband, Stephen Reid, in 2018, and to the death by accidental overdose of her daughter, Sophie Musgrave Reid, in 2021, after a twenty-year struggle with addiction. But Musgrave’s sensibility imbues these poems with more – wit and the natural world serve as counterpoints in her scrutiny of both language and emotion. Cassandra Drudi, Quill and Quire

Read Exculpatory Lilies Review by The British Columbia Review

origami dove susan musgrave

Origami Dove

McClelland & Stewart, 2011
ISBN 978-0-7710-6522-4

Origami Dove is award-winning poet Susan Musgrave’s first collection of new poems since Things That Keep and Do Not Change (1999). In it, Musgrave offers brilliantly crafted poetry that moves effortlessly between violence and beauty, rage and sanity, the humorous and the erotic. By turns dark, playful, and edgy, these poems are informed by a mature intelligence. The collection includes a harrowing urban sequence inspired by the true stories of six prostitutes from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, as well as a moving elegiac series that unfolds against the changing seasons and draws on the richness of the natural world around her home on the Sangan River, on Haida Gwaii during the year a close friend died of lung cancer. This is Susan Musgrave in full control of her powers, writing poetry that cuts right to the bone.

when the world is not our home susan musgrave

When the World is Not Our Home: Selected Poems 1985-2000

Thistledown Press, 2009
ISBN 978-1-897235-67-6

When the World is Not Our Home includes nearly fifty poems selected from titles published between 1985 and 2000. These poems illustrate an agile poet sifting the everyday through a fine mythical screen. 

Known for her rebellious voice, Musgrave knots sensual with mischief, girlhood with ritual, and parental with horrific. Cacophonous imagery engages through an exquisite language and what it describes: family faltering into drug addiction, infidelity, and death. 

Musgrave positions the reader in “the thin membrane between self and world”, and it is in this space that she provokes us with her gripping imagination. 

“Musgrave approaches her subject in the manner of Salvador Dali — she distorts reality until it approximates her bizarre vision of the world.” — The Globe and Mail

“Tapping into fears and subconscious yearnings has been Susan Musgrave’s trademark from her earliest work, Songs of the Sea Witch, where she found inspiration and direction in classical and aboriginal mythology. Now she is able to locate the mythic element anywhere, in a death, a ferry ride, a failed photographic expedition, even in reading someone else’s collected poems!” — BC Bookworld

what the small day cannot hold susan musgrave

What the Small Day Cannot Hold: Collected Poems 1970-1985

Beach Holme Publishing, 2000
ISBN 0-88878-406-6

Finally, a collected Musgrave for those old enough to have been there in the 1970s and those young enough to want to re-experience the generation’s wry optimism and ironic fervour.

This seven-title canon reissues Musgrave’s early must-have literary opus and includes: Songs of the Sea-Witch, Entrance of the Celebrant, Grave-Dirt and Selected Strawberries, The Impstone, Beck Swan’s Book, A Man to Marry, a Man to Bury and Cocktails at the Mausoleum. Originally published by Sono Nis, Macmillan, McClelland & Stewart and Porcupine’s Quill, the poems in What the Small Day Cannot Hold reconstitute the lost canon of one of the country’s most vibrant and original national voices.

Called the “foremost poet of her generation”, Musgrave epitomizes the people’s poet, bringing to audiences starved for a new language a wide breadth of material startling in its intensity and originality, legendary in its myth-making and monumental in its primal power.  From witchcraft to wilderness, from First Nations to the urban nation, from the erotic to the exotic, these poems explode typical expectations and haunt the reader with unprecedented dramatic appeal.

Poetry Books - Out of Print

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Susan Musgrave, P.O. Box 97, Masset, B.C. V0T 1M0
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things that keep and do not change susan musgrave

Things That Keep and Do Not Change

McClelland & Stewart, 1999
ISBN 0-7710-6659-7

Price: $15.00
(Plus postage & handling as noted above)

Musgrave writes from the edge of experience, where death looms large and sanity is threatened. The gutsiness that has come to be associated with her work is evident in these poems that protest life’s inequities. Difficulties are faced squarely, however, as speakers come to the lucid realization that they are but amateurs in the art of day-to-day living. Out of private struggles with alcohol, drugs, and sex emerges the hard-won knowledge that “something glorious comes,” even in the moment of death.

Praise for Things That Keep and Do Not Change

The poems here are often about loss and violation, but Musgrave’s characteristic mirth and penchant for harmless mischief keep breaking in. She conjures ghostly or violent images, but the comic muse is never far away.” —The Globe and Mail

forcing the narcissus susan musgrave

Forcing the Narcissus

McClelland & Stewart, 1994
ISBN 0-7710-6659-7

Price: $15.00
(Plus postage & handling as noted above)

“Almost everything we call art is/the spiritualization of cruelty,” Musgrave writes, a reflection central to the poems in Forcing the Narcissus.   Suffused at times with imagery of brutality and pain, the poems transform emotional trauma into the realm of the spiritual where it can be examined: “How pure can the memory of violence be/how unbreakable the habit of breaking”; questions: “What makes human beings forgive one another?”; exorcised: “Sorrow is a nourishment forever”; and finally, even laughed about: “Let’s pretend we’re in love with one another. / You go first.” 

This is Musgrave’s first new collection since Cocktails at the Mausoleum was published in 1985.  Her new poetry, still bent on the sadness of beauty, reflects ten years of change, and there’s a deeper acknowledgement now of a world where anything is possible, even love.

Giochi d Amore e di Sangue Susan Musgrave

Giochi d’Amore e di Sangue (Italian edition), Blood and Love Games

Edizioni ETA, 2012
ISBN 8846733614

Price: n/a

From time to time maiden, witch, fatal idol, prostitute, shaman, Susan Musgrave moves in her poetic world (the grandiose panorama of the Canadian West Coast, which has become a symbolic landscape) between fatal attractions and strange complicity, with a vast range of registers and masks: visionary, absent-minded, excessive, often amusing, always surprising, she is capable of uniting a fairy-tale atmosphere with a Gothic thrill, hyperbolic perversions with a feigned childhood candor. Her fantasy feeds on irony and ferocity, building – through violent games, transformation dances, cruel fairy tales with women at the center – a rich image of the cultural and existential complexity of our time.

Obituary of Light The Sangan River Meditations Susan Musgrave

Obituary of Light: The Sangan River Meditations

Leaf Press, 2009
ISBN 978-1-926655-01-7

Price: $15.00
(Plus postage & handling as noted above)

Susan Musgrave has always trusted A.E. Housman’s definition of poetry: words that affect us physically, that find their way to something deep inside that is obscure and latent, something older than the present organization of ourselves. She believes, too, that the best poetry can communicate before it is literally understood.

This new book of poems is a sequence of reflections, of mindful blessings, on the everyday goings-on around her home on the Sangan River, ten miles outside Masset on Haida Gwaii. They were written the year her friend, a local beachcomber, Paul Bower, whose logs were used to build her seven-sided house, died of lung cancer.

Review Excerpts: 

Jennifer Boire, writing in Vallum: “I open this tiny book, the size of a prayer book or missal, not knowing what to expect. Right away I begin to savour the Zen-like musing of the first lines … the poet distills the essence of words the way a good haiku shines a light on a brief moment in time … the book is rich in wisdom, rich in insight, and well worth the discovery.”

Karin Cope, writing in The Dalhousie Review: “Of all the books, this is my favourite, the one that I will keep on my bedside table and reread. Its stark lines are freighted with wisdom deep enough that I’ve yet to scrape bottom.”

The Embalmers Art Susan Musgrave

The Embalmer’s Art: Selected Poems 1970-1991

Exile Editions, 1991
ISBN 9781550960112
ISBN 10: 1550960113

Price: $20.00
(Plus postage & handling as noted above)

Poems of crisis and elemental enchantment selected from previously published works as follows: Songs of the Sea-Witch (1970); Entrance of the Celebrant (1972); Grave-Dirt and Selected Strawberries (1973); The Impstone (1973); Becky Swan’s Book (1977); A Man to Marry A Man to Bury (1979) and Cocktails at the Mausoleum (1985).

tarts and muggers susan musgrave

Tarts and Muggers

McClelland & Stewart, 1982
ISBN 13: 9780771066603
ISBN10: 0771066600

Price: $20.00
(Plus postage & handling as noted above)

Moving constantly between dreams and reality – between mystery and the simple clarity of the day-to-day – Musgrave’s poetry deals with possibilities inherent in human relationships, and with the shadowy forces that can so easily destroy them.   The world she creates is imbued with the primitive and the violent – but it is also a world shaped by a precise and valid mystery of poetic technique.

Cocktails at the Mausoleum

McClelland & Stewart, 1982
ISBN 10: 0771066511
ISBN 13: 9780771066511

Price: $20.00
(Plus postage & handling as noted above)

Susan Musgrave’s Cocktails at the Mausoleum is a major poetic achievement by any measure.   It is her first book of new poetry since A Man to Marry A Man to Bury (1979), and follows her selected poems Tarts and Muggers (1982).   Demonstrating her extraordinary perceptual powers, these new poems are in turn haunting, erotic, tender, and ironic.   In addition, the book appends a poetic journal in the form of Musgrave’s own notes to the poems, which gives the book the intimate feeling of a live poetry reading, and offers new insights into her writing and the poetic process.

a man to marry a man to bury susan musgrave

A Man to Marry A Man to Bury

McClelland & Stewart, 1979
ISBN 0-7710-6655-4 pa.

Price: $20.00
(Plus postage & handling as noted above)

One of Canada’s most publicized, most popular literary figures, Susan Musgrave is the foremost poet of her generation.   In A Man to Marry A Man to Bury she uses multiple voices and visions, bringing to each the emotional power for which her poetry is famous.   Her subjects range from witchcraft, death, and the dark forces operating in sexual relationships, to friendship, humour, and the elements of human worth and dignity.   Her writing is, as ever, startling, original, and utterly compelling.

becky swan's book susan musgrave

Becky Swan’s Book

Porcupine’s Quill, 1977
ISBN 0 88984 026 1 (casebound in leather)
ISBN 0 88984 024 5 (wrapper)

Price: $10.00
(Plus postage & handling as noted above)

A sequence of poems written from the points-of-view (or, in the voices of) 18th century witches from the English-Scottish border. Musgrave discovered a “skeleton” on her mother’s paternal side — one Mary Blandy, the last woman executed in England (presumably for crimes related to witchcraft.)

Kiskatinaw Songs Poetry by Susan Musgrave

Kiskatinaw Songs

The Pharos Press, 1977
Octavo, original brick-red cloth titled in gilt.
ISBN 13: 9780919992009

Price: n/a

Poems transcribed from the legends and songs of aboriginal peoples. Characterized by compelling rhymes and sounds, these works give a personal evocation of pre-contact life. Hardcover, Limited Edition. Total edition of 250 copies, signed by the authors and artist. There were 26 copies lettered A-Z, also signed by the authors and illustrator)

Selected Strawberries and Other Poems by Susan Musgrave

Selected Strawberries and Other Poems

Sono Nis Press, 1977
ISBN 10- 0919462391
ISBN 13 –978-0919462397
Paperback, 1977
ISBN 10: 0919462413
ISBN 13: 9780919462410

Price: $20.00
(Plus postage & handling as noted above)

Selected Strawberries and Other Poems consists of revised versions of all the poems in Entrance of the Celebrant and Grave-Dirt and Selected Strawberries that Susan Musgrave wishes to retain in her canon, together with a preface in which she discusses the making of the poems and sheds much light upon her creative process.

the impstone susan musgrave

The Impstone

McClelland & Stewart, 1976
ISBN 10: 0771066546
ISBN 13: 9780771066542

Omphalos Press (UK), 1978
ISBN 10: 0906139023
ISBN 13: 9780906139028

Price: $20.00
(Plus postage & handling as noted above)

Achieving a poetry of mystery, dark import, and primitive power, The Impstone is Susan Musgrave’s best and most haunting collection to date.   Through themes drawn from witchcraft and Celtic and North American Indian mythology, she has fashioned her own myths, creating them with ineffably subtle artistry and glazing them with piercingly accurate insights into human relationships.   She brings to these poems an intensity of emotion, a commanding mastery of technique, and remarkably mature poetic voice – all the elements of an impressive volume of verse.

grave dirt and selected strawberries susan musgrave

Grave-Dirt and Selected Strawberries

Macmillan, 1973
ISBN 10: 0770510450
ISBN 13: 9780770510459

Price: $20.00
(Plus postage & handling as noted above)

Grave-Dirt and Selected Strawberries is a new collection of unprecedented vitality and versatility by Susan Musgrave, whose earlier books, Songs of the Sea-Witch, and Entrance of the Celebrant established her reputation as one of the most exciting of the young Canadian poets.   

The book is in three sections.   The first, “Grave-Dirt”, will seem the most familiar to readers of earlier books.   Dark, brooding, gnomic, and highly dramatic, the poems have a “symbolic resonance that eventually draws the reader into their strange world.” 

The second section, “Kiskatinaw Songs”, contains poems based on the legends and songs of aboriginal peoples.   Characterized by compelling rhymes and sounds, these works give a personal evocation of pre-contact life. 

“Selected Strawberries” is as unlike the rest of the book as it can be imagined.   This is a hilariously refreshing series of poems and pastiches which assume the strawberry to be the navel of the world.

entrance of the celebrant susan musgrave

Entrance of the Celebrant

Fuller d’Arch Smith Ltd, London, 1972
ISBN 10: 0903394006
ISBN 13: 978-0903394000

Price: $20.00
(Plus postage & handling as noted above)

“This is Susan Musgrave’s first book to appear outside Canada (published in the UK) where she lives, and her second volume of verse. Her poetic talent and the tone and structure of her verse show a force, an awareness and an insight that are both magical and realistic, aware of the immediate world and the underlying tensions of the subconscious and the human core.” 


songs of the sea witch susan musgrave

Songs of the Sea-Witch

Sono Nis Press, 1970
ISBN 9781536459814
Paperback edition, 1975


Songs of the Sea-Witch, Susan Musgrave’s first book, published when she was nineteen (before she was “old enough to have a biography”) takes its title from the poem sequence which forms the book’s centre.   Explicably connected with Long Beach, Vancouver Island, these six poems culminate Susan Musgraves’s initial search for identity and mythology. What emerges, without the slightest hint of stock culture borrowings, is a synthesis of contemporary and aboriginal sensibilities. The landscapes of these poems, the rocks, mate – often disturbingly or terrifyingly so – yet one is always aware of the personal voice, for the landscape is an interior one or too with a vivid moral and intellectual geography.   To be at once particular and mythic is Miss Musgrave’s rare achievement. 

The concluding sections of the book relate more overtly to the contemporary, urban world and are characterized by a wry repugnance that is sometimes outraged, often witty.   For, ultimately, Susan Musgrave is a poet with a fidelity to words for their own magical sake – to name something is to create it.