Ripping down half the trees

Out June 2021! To order, click here. To schedule a reading or discussion of the book, click here.

“Some poems can live without souls / but mine remain ghastly fools flicking / uncomfortable narratives like / cigarette butts during class change.”

One out of every twenty students in the adult education classes Evan J teaches in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, dies every year; the surviving students are often afflicted by severe racism, poverty, addictions, and violence. Ripping down half the trees engages with these struggles, offering a catalogue of experiences specific to the remote regions of Canada.

Tearing down the façade of Canadian justice and equality to expose the racism, colonialism, sexism, prejudicial capitalism, and ableism at the nation’s core, these are poems about cruelty, both the obvious and the ambient.

They are unflinching in their sociopolitical criticism, upset by unchanging systemic oppressions, unable to overlook the threat of the author’s white skin, unwilling to forget Justin Trudeau in blackface. And while they acknowledge the limits of the author’s privileged perspective, they are never willing to let the perpetrating structures of this cruelty go unchecked.
But these poems also let stand the shelterwood, the upstanding actions of individuals, the totems of hope. They work as coping strategies, as therapy, as empathy, offering a glimpse of optimism and a space for discourse. These are poems that listen.


Ripping Down Half the Trees never loses sight of the fact that writing poems like this is difficult, intensive work. But it feels right to leave the reader here, with the closing lines of “Pottery, an impossibility,” and the (im)possibility of imagining a world where poetry, pottery, and bead- and needlework are each simultaneously vital and common as breathing.”

Max Karpinski, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Toronto

“Sharp and ornate, good-humoured and grief-stricken, Evan J’s work bears witness to the ongoing emergency of settler colonialism and the unsteady, unsteadying path toward responsibility. These poems won’t let the reader turn away.”

— Laurie D. Graham, author of Settler Education

“I’m a city dweller with a suburban family who’s never lived more than forty minutes from the bustling downtown, and an upper-middle-class woman who’s never been in the kind of social services Evan J describes, but I still felt invited and introduced to this world thoughtfully by Evan J’s writing. A mini-glossary at the back of the collection helped a little, but the invitational tone did more. Evan J’s goal is certainly to invite the reader to witness, to pay attention to, some important larger issues.”

Dani Spinosa, author of OO: Typewriter Poems

“In Ripping down half the trees readers are guided by a multitude of speakers who will bring them to sometimes dark and uncomfortable spaces where ‘the lights are always off.’ Exploring a range of themes, from the social and racial inequalities found within Canada to how to pluck pheasant and how to respond to hostility, Evan J artfully confronts and questions his privilege, thereby causing the speaker’s eyes to adjust so that we may do the same. Ripping down half the trees is poignant and stark, yet filled with ‘unfathomable beauty.’”

— Greg Santos, author of Ghost Face

“When you read Ripping down half the trees, if you’re a northerner, you’ll feel the harsh truth of it all, recognizing the stories of people who you’ve likely seen on your own hometown’s streets.”

Kim Fahner, author of These Wings

“To read Ripping down half the trees is to experience a jarring feeling of contradiction and a provocation to contemplate how apathy plays a part in our lives. Evan J’s words are arresting and urgent and woven with visceral images, linguistic precision, and sharp emotive undertones that cut to the bare bones of human experience. This is not an easy read. Evan skillfully guides the reader through that which is fraught – the violence of modern living. But more than that, it is written with an eye for beauty and a deep care for people and place.”

— Lishai Peel, co-author of Why Birds and Wolves Don’t Trade Stones

“Hoskins’s writing style is very direct, artful and conversational, and the tone of the collection remains emotive and contemplative until you close the back cover. Hoskins’s use of vivid imagery and enjambed lines creates a startling duality — a beautiful melancholy of what was, what is and what should be. His words jump off the page and his craftsmanship is fresh, dynamic and exciting.”

The Manitoban

June 2021
The Hugh MacLennan Poetry Series
McGill-Queen’s University Press