Although not defined as Indigenous, Cecily Nicholson has concentrated on exploring, evoking and defining Black diaspora and Indigenous displacement.

She has received the Governor General's Award in Poetry in 2018 for Wayside Sang (Talonbooks $16.95) and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize for From the Poplars (Talonbooks $16.95) in 2015. The former is her account of economy travel on North American roadways as she imagines the transient labour of her birth father in the Great Lakes region of two nation states, amid a landscape of forgetting. “It looks to Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee, and Attawandaron presence and histories – to Indigenous memory as a constant to land, as constitutive elements of Nicholson’s poetic practice.”

Reflecting the history of Poplar Island in New Westminster, Cecily Nicholson's collection of 'documentary poetry', From the Poplars (Talonbooks), won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 2015. hailed it as "a compelling blend of poetic research, personal infusion, and historical subjectivity while remaining urgent and insightful. It's a call to arms for environmental consciousness, and a text monument of loss and shame."

Located at the east end of the North Arm of the Fraser River, unpopulated Poplar Island was a part of three reserves relegated to the "New Westminster Indian Band" in 1879 by the federal government. After some 27 acres of reserve land became a smallpox quarantine area for Qayqayt First Nations, reducing their numbers from about 400 to 100, the remaining Qayqayt mostly joined the Musqueam Band, making it much easier for the B.C. government to enable New Westminster Construction and Engineering Company to build a large shipyard on the island in 1916. By 1936, only fisheries warden William Albert Bowcott and his family lived on the island. In 1945, the city of New Westminster allowed the the island to be used by forestry giant Rayonier Canada. In 1995, the provincial government declared the island was part of its "nature legacy" program. Cecily Nicholson's poetry book is partially inspired by the efforts of the revived Qayqayt First Nation to regain control of the island. They assert they are the only chartered First Nations government in Canada without any land base.

As a community organizer who has worked in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside since 2000, and who has administered the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre, Cecily Nicholson wrote a first book of poetry, Triage (Talonbooks, 2011), that presents "a polyvocal narrative of human communities struggling at the brutal margins of the neoliberalized state." It examines and supports women's creative resistance to both physical and systemic violence.

As the administrator of Gallery Gachet, she continues to engage with conditions of displacement, class and gender violence. Cecily Nicholson was also a contributor to Anamnesia: Unforgetting (VIVO Media Arts, 2012). She was the Ellen and Warren Tallman Writer in Residence at SFU in 2017.


Harrowings (Talonbooks, 2022) $16.95 9781772014051

Wayside Sang (Talonbooks, 2017) $16.95 9781772011821

From the Poplars (Talonbooks, 2014) $16.95 9780889228566

Triage (Talonbooks, 2011) $16.95 9780889226579

[BCBW 2023]