Nancy Jo Cullen recommends “Keep That Candle Burning Bright…”


very once in a while, we invite authors to share recommendations for your next great read. Today, Nancy Jo Cullen looks back on a classic work.

What book would you recommend to readers?

Keep That Candle Burning Bright & Other Poems by Bronwen Wallace (Coach House Press, 1991). Sadly, it’s out of print but it might be in your library and it can found second hand.

What is the book about?

It’s a small collection of prose poems published posthumously. The first section, “Keep That Candle Burning Bright,” is made up of poems that riff on Emmylou Harris songs and the second section, “Everyday Science,” is about, you guessed it, everyday science.

What makes it a “great read”?

This book was published after Bronwen Wallace died of cancer and I’m never able to get through this book without thinking, that at least for some of these poems, she knew her situation was very dire. But these are poems about how songs burst through and, to quote from Wallace’s dedication, “The burn from what is strong in me, as each of us, in our best moments, tries to love the noisy, untidy selves we’ve lost, out there somewhere.”

Why do you recommend this book to readers?

To quote from the book again–Alice Munro’s blurb on the back—“These poems tore at my heart and made me happy–just the way the songs do, that Bronwen loved.” Totally. That’s why I recommend this book.

Who might be interested in this book?

A reader who likes poetry and/or short stories. A reader interested in hybrid writing that straddles genres–creative non-fiction/poetry, or poetry/fiction.

What drew you to this book?

I was reading (and loving) Bronwen Wallace’s collections before she died and so, of course, I bought a copy of Keep That Candle Burning Bright as soon as it came out. I loaned my first one out to someone… and I’ve continued to find it buy it as copies have left my possession since.

How many times have you read this book?

I suppose about 5 times. I’ve gifted it more often though have to search online for second hand copies to do so.

Can you describe your favourite part or element of the book?

I love its conversational tone.

Nancy Jo Cullen has published three poetry collections with Calgary’s Frontenac House and a story collection with Biblioasis. She’s the 2010 recipient of the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for Emerging LGBT Writers.

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