Lesley Choyce can't name all the honours he's been short-listed for. He can’t recall, offhand, the exact number of copies each of his 84 books have sold. He doesn't know what the future holds in store for the art of poetry. And he certainly didn't expect to win the 2013 Atlantic Poetry Prize.
But if there is one thing Choyce knows it's this: he's alive, and he believes in everything.
“I'm somebody who tends to gets short-listed for things, but I rarely win them,” Choyce says of his recent award. “I think it brought me back to this believing thing. I certainly did stop believing in poetry because so few people read it, but certain things take on a life of their own, especially the title poem of this collection.”
The book, titled I'm Alive. I Believe in Everything, is a compilation of old and new poems written throughout the Dalhousie English prof's career. The title poem was chosen to reflect a wide range of topics, both autobiographical and fiction, which Choyce hopes remain accessible and create powerful images for readers of years to come.
“There was something about that particular poem that's been around for a long time. People were picking it up and posting it on their websites and it appeared in a number of different places,” Choyce says.
Among the websites and blogs, one of those places happened to be in an anthology titled Anthologise that came out in England, sponsored by by Camilla the Duchess of Cornwall.
“It was supposed to be some of the best poetry of all time; Shakespeare, John Donne and then they picked that poem! Just the one, but it was in there.”
Adding to acclaim
Choyce is the second Dal professor to win the Atlantic Poetry Prize in as many years: in 2012, the award went to Creative Writing professor Sue Goyette. The prize is presented by the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia.
An acclaimed writer, Choyce has seen some of his young adult novels circulate into libraries as far away as Alaska and New Zealand. For a more local alternative, Choyce's bookshelf in his McCain Building office is a treasure trove of his published works. He says that working as a professor at Dalhousie has helped him grow as a writer by receiving a wide array of feedback. Since his first book was accepted for publication in 1979, he's written about what he's felt, experienced and seen evolve.
“I grew up in a generation where we were going to fix the world and do all this amazing stuff and, you know, what the hell went wrong? How come we didn't?” Choyce says, reflecting on a poem in his collection called “Best Minds.” It is one of the many that speaks to the changes that occurred on the heels of the 20th century.
As for his favourite poem in the collection, Choyce thumbs through his book to find what he's looking for.
“'Testament' on page 23,” he says.
“I wouldn't try to explain it or say too much about it but I think it's a very strong poem. I hope, too, that most of them in there aren't just gimmicks, because I don't like gimmicky poems too much and I don't like poems that shout too much; but I like poems that if allow the readers to see the world a completely different way.”
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