Tetralogy of Criticism

This site hasn’t been terribly busy, but I have been. Over the past year, I’ve been contributing detailed essays concerning Canadian poetry to The Negative Review, my Substack site. I’ve also been fashioning a poetry criticism books series that integrates the critical prose I’ve written on Canadian poetry over the past twenty-two years. Consider this your opportunity to pre-order! Each title in the series below will be published in a run of 50 each, and costs $500 per title. Purchasing all four together gets you the bunch for $1500.

Working backwards, I’m going to unveil the most recent first. Cover still pending, but the draft bumpf for Book 4 in the Unfit Criticism Series is:

In August of 2020, Shane Neilson created The Negative Review on the e-newsletter program Substack. Acquiring more subscribers than he ever dreamed of for an esoteric site devoted to critical prose about Canadian poetry, Neilson delivered a detailed piece each month. He questioned “scandal” as currently constructed in CanLit, pushed back against shame politics, wondered why so many mediocre white Canadian male poets were releasing Selected volumes at a time of diversity in Canadian literature, and even dared to write a negative review about Dionne Brand.

The Negative Review (ShanCor Enterprises, 2021, will be over 200 pp.) contains the following essays:

  1. Return of Thematic
  2. We Shall Know You By Your Reviews: The Woke White Male and Alden Nowlan’s Collected Poems
  3. Spoiled Identity and the Frozen Now
  4. Crito Revolta: On Marc di Saverio’s Crito di Volta (Toronto: Guernica, 2020)
  5. The Missing Vision in the Visionary: Shared Universe: New and Selected Poems 1995 – 2020 (Toronto: ECW Press, 2020) As Some Generic DystopiaTM.
  6. He Doesn’t Look Like a Poet: On Jay MillAr’s I Could Have Pretended to Be Better Than You (Vancouver: Anvil, 2019)
  7. Like My Dad, Rapping: A Review of Carmine Starnino’s Leviathan (Kentville: Gaspereau, 2020)
  8. Dionne Brand is the Most Powerful Poet in Canada and No Negative Reviews are Permitted, This Message will Self-Destruct in Five Seconds Beep: A Review-Essay on Doomscrolling in Dionne Brand’s The Blue Clerk (McClelland and Stewart, 2019)
  9. The Rebranding: Canisia Lubrin’s The DyzgraphXst (McClelland and Stewart, 2020)
  10. Why Woke CanLit Twitter Matchmade Me and Holy Wild (Toronto: Bookhug, 2018). 
  11. The Protest is This Way: The Problem with Watch Your Head: Writers and Artists Respond to the Climate Crisis (Toronto: Coach House, 2020.)
  12. The Neilson Ratings: A Big Lie Whites Tell Themselves So That They Can Hoard Social Capital Instead of Awards

Volume 3 in the Unfit Criticism Series is Marginal (ShanCor Enterprises, 2021, typeset 236 pp.)

Bumpf: The third in a unique series of critical texts by Shane Neilson, Marginal includes material intended for Margin of Interest (PQL, 2019), the author’s book of literary criticism on the English language poetry of the Maritimes. The work collected in Marginal is not secondary or inferior to the earlier PQL text, as Neilson intended the original to be a two-volume project. Marginal is a realization of that vision, containing nonfiction pieces on M. Travis Lane, Wayne Clifford, and Peter Sanger; additional material on Milton Acorn and Alden Nowlan; work on prominent Prince Edward Islanders J.J. Steinfeld and David Helwig; and much more.

Marginal contains:

  1. Introduction
  2. How Not to Represent a Region: Coastlines and Overfishing
  3. The Backwards Sobriquet: A Review of New Brunswick at the Crossroads: Literary Ferment And Social Change in the East
  4. Regionalisms 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and Beyond: Reading Maritime Poetry Anthologies Backward
  5. Foosty Boost: The First Two Books of Anne Compton
  6. Dr. Acorn, or: how I joined the Canadian Liberation Movement and learned to love the stern nurse fusion bomb sun
  7. We Shall Know You By Your Reviews: The Woke White Male & Alden Nowlan’s Collected Poems
  8. Heroes & Legends: Finding John Thompson with Peter Sanger
  9. Visiting Lane
  10. Visiting Wayne Clifford
  11. Crossing the Campus: Introduction to M. Travis Lane’s Heart on Fist
  12. Clifford the Not-Sonneteer
  13. A shared text is an act of friendship
  14. Math, Satire, and Sense: David Helwig’s Seawrack
  15. In Some More Distant Key: An Interview With David Helwig
  16. Time-Grammar and Second-Order Witnessing: On J. J. Steinfeld’s Identity Dreams and Memory Sounds
  17. Return to Scoudouc: A Review of Hermenegilde Chiasson’s To Live and Die in Scoudouc. Translated by Jo-Anne Elder
  18. Rabbittown Press, David Brewer, Prop.
  19. Obituary
  20. Angelic Salutation
  21. Idiosyncratic Notes on the Essays
  22. Acknowledgements
  23. Endnotes

Volume 2 in the Unfit Criticism Series is Personal Investments (ShanCor Enterprises, 2021, typeset 222 pp.)

Bumpf: The second in a unique series of critical texts by Shane Neilson, Personal Investments centres the author’s method of “bioreviewing.” Using this lens, Neilson brings books by writers like Darren Bifford and Doug Glover into relation with his own subjectivity, offering unusual aesthetic commentary intermixed with his own experience. Later, Neilson focuses more squarely on prose, collecting together substantial essays on (mostly Canadian) novels and nonfiction. 

Personal Investments contains:

1. Introduction
2. Part One: Adventures in Bioreviewing
3. Time and Fever
4. Freedom
5. Language On Holiday
6. The Festival of No More Words
7. Explosions: A Review of Douglas Glover’s The Life and Times of Captain N
8. Finnegan’s Wake in the Porridge Universe: A Review of Peter Behrens’ The O’Briens
9. Borrowing Magic: A Review of Darren Bifford’s Wedding in Fire Country
10. Review of Ian Dowbiggin’s The Quest For Mental Health: A Tale of Science, Medicine, Scandal, Sorrow, and Mass Society
11. David Shields and the Laziness Inherent
12. Coda: This is What I Wanted To Sign Off With
13. The Poetics of Plot: A Review of Chris Gudgeon’s Song of Kosovo
14. Zero Chronology: Notes on the Use of Time in Casey Plett’s Little Fish
15. Review of Michael Winter’s Into the Blizzard: Walking the Fields of the Newfoundland Dead
16. Review of Alison Pick’s Far to Go
17. But Transcendence: A Review of Running the Whale’s Back: Stories of Faith and Doubt From Atlantic Canada
18. Review of David Adams Richards’s God Is: My Search for Faith in a Secular World and John Terpstra’s Skin Boat: Acts of Faith and Other Navigations
19. How bad is this book? Let me count the ways. A review of Art Seamans’ The Dead One Touched Me From The Past: A Walk With Writers Through The Centuries
20. It’s Not All About the Brain: A Review of Joshua Shenck’s Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression
Challenged a President and Fuelled his Greatness

21. Healey and Goliath: A Review of David Healey’s The Creation of Psychopharmacology
22. The Parodox I’m Really Pulling For: A Review of Dawn Raffel’s The Strange Case of Dr. Martin Couney
23. When Words Are An Anticlimax: A Review of Steven Henighan’s When Words Deny the World
24. Nice try, Doestoevsky: A Review of Stan Rogal’s bafflegab
25. The Story of Thee Hellbox Press: An Interview with Hugh Barclay and Faye Batchelor
26. Poetic Composition and the Implications of Scientific Theory: Jim Johnstone and Shane Neilson in
27. Idiosyncratic Notes on the Essays
28. Acknowledgements
29. Endnotes

Volume 1 in the Unfit Criticism series (albeit this cover is somewhat in variance — will be fixed) is Retractable Devil Horns (ShanCor Enterprises, 2021, 262 pp.)

Bumpf: The first in a unique series of critical texts by Shane Neilson, Retractable Devil Horns is an irreverently passionate account of Canadian poetry over the past twenty years. Following Judith Butler’s advice to “cherish the longer forms,” Neilson collects his more substantial incendiary pieces, many of which he deliberately suppressed for book publication due to the prevailing ideological climate in the humanities and arts. In the first half of this text, Neilson reaches out to screaming Canadian poetry personalities, down-dresses many of the country’s big names, and attacks performativity; in the second, he thinks through books by talents like Carmine Starnino, Phil Hall, and Sharon McCartney in a more reflective (but no less engaged) manner. 

Retractable Devil Horns contains:

  1. Poisonous Frame: A Review of Laura Ward’s Bad Press: The Worst Critical Reviews Ever! (B.E.S. Publishing, 2002)
  2. Public Hanging: the Death of the Book Review
  3. Harbourfront Pigs and Lipstick
  4. Rules of Thumb for An Aspiring Critic
  5. Pretending to be Great: Review of Rafi Aaron’s Surviving the Censor: The Unspoken Words of Osip Mandelstam (Niagara Falls: Seraphim Editions, 2006)
  6. High School Confessional
  7. Lyric, get thee to a nursing home, they’re showing cartoons in the dining room
  8. Measured Advice from a Shrieking Personality
  9. Reaching for Al Purdy: A Review of Beyond Remembering (Madeira Park: Harbour, 2000) and Yours, Al: The Collected Letters of Al Purdy (Madeira Park: Harbour, 2004)
  10. Solway the Sad Balladeer: an Open Letter to the (Unofficial) Laureate of ‘This Sucks’
  11. Critics at Large: A Review of Carmine Starnino’s A Lover’s Quarrel: Essays and Reviews (Erin: PQL, 2004) and Peter Sanger’s White Salt Mountain (Kentville: Gaspereau, 2005)
  12. The Invisible Man Is In Your Caesura: Phil Hall Collaborative Collage w/ John Nyman
  13. Introduction to The Pre-Poem Moment
  14. My First Review: Esta Spalding’s Lost August: Poems (House of Anansi Press, 1999)
  15. Eventual Development: The Poetry of Carmine Starnino
  16. McCartney Sings the Blues
  17. Recovering the Stars: A Review of Marc di Saverio’s Sanatorium Songs (Toronto: Cactus Press, 2010)
  18. Beauty and Representing Mental Illness: A Review of Blackhood #1 (Comics are the Enemy Publications, 2017)
  19. Interpreting the Interpreter of Dreams and Culture: Introduction to Sing to Me in the Cut (Victoria: Frog Hollow Press, 2015)
  20. True Words in the Word Cloud: An Experiment in Collaborative Criticism
  21. Idiosyncratic Notes on the Essays
  22. Acknowledgements
  23. Endnotes

The ethos behind the series is a tale told in the introduction of Retractable Devil Horns. I won’t tell the tale out of school. Here’s a clue:

If you’re interested in purchasing copies (only serious queries will be responded to), then use the message function on this site. If you are a Canadian university library, I’m afraid only one university per province will be allocated a copy (with one exception). I hope it was you!


Lull * Love is: Correspondence Between Alan Bleakley and Shane Neilson. (Sheffield, NB: ShanCor Enterprises, 2020.) Limited edition of 50. Cost $500/copy.

The Negative Review

I’ve created The Negative Review, a new Canadian poetry reviews website that is subscription-only. The bare minimum service committment is one long essay or review per month, though I’m wildly exceeding those requirements at the time of writing. The books and topics I’m considering are part of a programme I’ve drafted to occupy the entirety of the next year, from Sept. 2019 – Sept. 2020, and I will unveil the title of each piece as it is published, although paying subscribers will get a title-reveal a month early. The site has a couple of dozen free subscribers at present (who get nothing except an encouragement to subscribe upon the publication of each new piece) and just over ten paying ones, but this will build over time, I hope, as I’m taking on some big new releases. I do not present this site as anything other than my own personal opinions that each have taken dozens of hours to produce. For a special subsection of reader, this sentence is for you: the hate reading fee is the same as curious/general reading fee, $10/month or $100/year. Do sign up!

Reviews and Commentary of/on New Brunswick (Biblioasis, 2019)

Barbara Colebrook Peace in The Malahat Review 209. “In his beautiful and haunting new collection of poems, New Brunswick, Shane Neilson explores the nature of his home province with the same deeply searching spirit he has hitherto brought to the subjects of pain and identity. He has made the book so personally moving and engaging that he draws the reader into this exploration with him.”

Micheline Maylor in Quill and Quire July/August 2019: “Neilson’s sharp observations entice. New Brunswick rings in tone and tribute as a moody historic elegy.”

Aaron Schneider in The Temz Review 8: “New Brunswick leaves you with the impression that there are more poems to be written, and they are poems that, like the ones in the book itself, you would very much like to read.” 

R.M. Vaughan in NBMediaCo-op June 12, 2019: “Oromocto-born writer Shane Neilson’s latest book of poems, plainly and aptly titled New Brunswick, is a major new work in the provincial, and way beyond, canon. Centering New Brunswick within larger national dialogues, New Brunswick (Biblioasis, 2019) takes a hard and moving look at how the province (indeed, all of Canada) can and must reconcile its past with its present, begin to heal its deeply wounded environment, and turn “regionalism”, formerly a dirty word in poetics, into something urgent and far more resonant.

James Fisher in The Miramichi Reader, Sept. 14 2019: “First impressions upon reading New Brunswick: (1) I felt like I went a few rounds with Yvon Durelle, the Fighting Fisherman, so hard-hitting is the emotional impact of this collection. (2) I was amazed at how much of New Brunswick’s history, current affairs and sense of place Mr. Neilson incorporates into his poems.”

Al Moritz in The Fiddlehead 283: “Shane Neilson’s poetry in New Brunswick so often expresses itself completely in a single beautiful poem, passage, or aphoristic-symbolic phrase—a world in a grain of sand—that one can put aside at first (and some readers, I suppose, could do without forever) its exploratory and marvellously expressive use of the serial, or sequential form. I’m so taken by the power of the local in this book that I’m virtually content to access solely through its mediation the universal that is equally a direct element of the poetry, and that ought to be engaged directly to get a full view of the book’s project and accomplishment.”

Neil Surkan in Canadian Literature: “n his latest excellent collection, New Brunswick, Shane Neilson also focuses on the particulars of place. His poems, however, expand and contract to take in political, economic, and cultural concerns while somehow doubling as moving, intimate elegies and meditations on family. Somehow comes to mind repeatedly when reading this collection: the book’s six sections are as ambitious as they are impressive in the ways they renovate and reimagine the long poem form. From its opening timeline-poem, to sequenced stand-alone lyrics, to hybridized crowns of sonnets, New Brunswick consistently surprises. Philip Larkin, Patrick Lane, Robert Lowell, and Alden Nowlan lurk in Neilson’s melodic rhymes and persistent rhythms, but his courageously genuine intimations make his voice unmistakable . . . Subtle and multifaceted, these are poems that juggle more feelings and more forms than most—and more life.

East Coast Tour – Oct 3-7, 2019

Hi Everyone! I will be travelling to do a series of readings in New Brunswick from Oct 3-7, 2019. Travelling with me in the car and joining me on many of the dates are Jim Johnstone, Jeff Kirby, John Nyman and Kevin Heslop. I will be touring my 2019 trio: New Brunswick (Biblioasis), Constructive Negativity, (Palimpsest) and Margin of Interest (PQL).

  • Thurs, Oct 3, 2019
  • 6 pm – 8 pm
  • Attic Owl Reading Series
  • Cafe C’est la Vie
  • 785 Main St, Moncton, NB
  • For more information, check out the facebook page
  • Fri, Oct 4, 2019
  • T’was the night before Poetry Weekend (House Party)
  • 7 pm – 10 pm
  • 76 Waterloo Rd, Fredericton, NB
  • Sat-Sun, Oct 5-6, 2019
  • Poetry Weekend
  • Memorial Hall, UNB, Fredericton
  • Don’t come just to see me, see everyone!
  • 3 sets per day, at 11 am, 2 pm, and 8 pm. 
  • Sat, Oct 5, 2019
  • 2:30 pm
  • Petitcodiac Public Library
  • 6 Kay St, Petitcodiac, NB
  • with Danny Jacobs, Kevin Heslop and John Nyman
  • Missing the Sat afternoon session of PW
  • Oct 7, 2019 – 10:30 am
  • Special topics in creative writing class w/ Dr. Robert Moore
  • UNB, Saint John Campus
  • Hazen Hall, Room 127
  • Not open to public.
  • Oct 7, 2019 – 3:30 pm
  • Workshop with Kirby of Knife:Fork:Book and This Is Where I Get Off fame
  • Saint John Free Public Library (Uptown Saint John)
  • come catch Kirby be electrifying and help you with your work!