The poems in Kelly Shepherd’s Insomnia Bird are a cartography and a geography of Edmonton. The poems which shift between short, individual lyric pieces and found text emulate a black-billed magpie’s nest with the subject-matter and also physically, with the words and lines. The poems generate the theme of home (the bird’s nest, the city), and not feeling at home; sleeping, and the inability to sleep. The magpie (the insomnia bird) is the protagonist and the muse, the thread that connects everything to everything else in this work.
As such, Shepherd’s poems move across the surface at speed, like Edmonton’s NAIT train, and dive like magpies after the occasional tasty image or crumb of detail. The city as it spreads out across the Prairies, can do nothing to prevent urban sprawl, and grows taller with each new highrise building and office tower and sinks deeper into the ground, which is memory!
The city with purple fingers and black feathers
is bending branches outside the window.
In the photosensitivity of morning,
The city is an open window that can’t hear itself think.
While Shepherd’s poems are at times critical of Edmonton’s automobile culture and urban sprawl, his tone remains ironic rather than moralizing and he is consistent in his use of dark humour to avoid being didactic. With such guidance the poems effectively disclose what is not seen, what is repressed, what lies behind the scenes in the city he shares with magpies.
About the Author
Kelly Shepherd has worked as a kindergarten teacher in South Korea, and a construction worker in northern Alberta. His first full-length poetry collection, Shift, was published by Thistledown Press in 2016 and longlisted for the Edmonton Public Library’s People’s Choice Award in 2017. He has written six poetry chapbooks, most recently A Hidden Bench (the Alfred Gustav Press, 2017). Kelly has a Creative Writing MFA from UBC Okanagan, and an MA in Religious Studies from the University of Alberta, with a thesis on sacred geography. Originally from Smithers, British Columbia, Kelly lives in Edmonton where he teaches at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. He is also the poetry editor for the environmental philosophy journal The Trumpeter.
Shepherd’s previous publications include:
Hidden Bench (chapbook), the Alfred Gustav Press, Vancouver, spring 2017
Shift, Thistledown Press, 2016
The First Metaphor, chapbook and gallery exhibition of poetry and linocuts with visual artist Alison Kubbos. Shown in the Bleeding Heart Artspace, Edmonton AB, as part of the 2015 Edmonton Poetry Festival and in Gallery Vertigo, Vernon BC, summer 2014.
Fort McMurray Tricksters, The Alfred Gustav Press, Vancouver BC, 2014.
if one petal falls, Leaf Press, Lantzville BC, 2012 (Korean translation by Sunhyung Kwon).
the bony world, The Rasp and the Wine, Edmonton AB, 2010.
Circumambulations, Publishing Beyond Borders, Reykjavik, Iceland, 2003.
Shift — Alberta Public Library’s People’s Choice Award, 2017 (long-listed)
Insomnia Bird — Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize, 2019 (winner)
Insomnia Bird — Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry, 2019 (short-listed)