Heather Jessup

Heather Jessup

Hello! Thanks for stopping by. Cup of tea?

I have a few confessions to make to you. I love my flamenco shoes. Even when I'm not dancing and they are sitting on the floor they have rhythm in the heels. Am I good at Flamenco dancing? No. But it doesn't stop me from loving the guitar and castanets and duende and the swish of ruffled skirts. I have lived all across Canada. I know the endless parachute of blue Saskatchewan skies, I have canoed in Algonquin park, eaten late-night poutine in Montréal, and swam on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. If I was a better swimmer, I would audition to be a professional mermaid. I am a sucker for magic.

The Lightning Field

The Lightning Field

Set against the backdrop of Cold War Toronto, The Lightning Field follows the lives of Peter and Lucy Jacobs from their post-war courtship through marriage and child-rearing in the suburbs. Though spanning four decades, the book pivots on the events of a single day: October 4, 1957. On this day, the Russians launch Sputnik into orbit, the Avro Arrow—the most advanced jet plane of its time, whose wings Peter Jacobs has engineered—rolls out onto the tarmac to great ceremony, and, in a nearby field, Lucy Jacobs is struck by lightning on her way to the event. The Lightning Field is about loss and unexpected offerings, personal dismantling and reassembly.

This book is typeset in Goluska, printed offset on Rolland Zephyr Antique Laid paper, and folded and gathered to make 272 pages. It is Smyth-sewn, bound between paper covers and enfolded in a letterpress-printed jacket.

...Read More
iron scroll
notes and jottings

Summer Writing Retreat on Shushwap Lake: June 30th to July 6th 2013


I'm leading a week-long writing retreat this summer from June 30th to July 6th on the beautiful shores of Shushwap Lake in British Columbia. Do you want to write, swim, and eat fresh organic food from Sorrento's own farm and garden? Registration is open! This class is going to sparkle! Click here for course description and registration.


Longlisted for the Dublin Impac Literary Award!


The Lightning Field has been longlisted for the Dublin IMPAC International Literary Award for 2013! The novel is in remarkable company, and this is a tremendous honour because all of the books chosen for this award are chosen by the most magical people on earth: LIBRARIANS! Librarians are the keepers of our public collective memories. They recommend not just books but ways of being and dreaming and thinking. They are hosts to those rich paper-smelling depositories of what ifs and whys and why nots. This is why this award nomination is particularly special to me. Libraries have been places of solice and beauty and joy in my life. I doubt I would ever have written a book if it wasn't for falling in love with books (sprawled on the carpeted floor, picture books flung open every which way, call numbers memorized) in the comfort of libraries. What an honour to have a library and its librarians think highly of your book! Thank you, Halifax Regional Public Libraries and your outstanding librarians. I think the world of you too!

Will I give this book a “good” or “bad” review? I can promise you that I will endeavour to do neither.



Dear ones,


This summer I have been doing a lot of writing...but not the writing I thought I would be doing. I've been writing letters. First, a letter to the Heritage Minister about the de-funding for the Literary Press Group. A decision that was incredibly, magically reversed (which I attribute to all of our letters, especially this one by the amazing Sheree Fitch!). Then I wrote letters to my fellow members of CWILA congratulating them on their hard work and beautiful pie charts. And now I find myself needing to write this letter, an open letter, about the art of reviewing, in response to this recent article that Michael Lista has written in the National Post. To which, thankfully, Jan Zwicky has written a beautiful response.

The more voices that are brought to this discussion of reviewing the better, I think. So here is my voice, added into the mix. Here is what I would write in the National Post. Here is my part of this conversation I would bring to Michael Lista over a good cup of coffee.


Yours truly,




Will I give this book a “good” or “bad” review? I can promise you that I will endeavour to do neither.



The call of CWILA for more women to write reviews – a call “seconded” by Michael Lista in “On Poetry: The good in bad reviews” June 29 2012—is invigorating. I, like Lista, imagine that “CWILA will inspire women who hadn’t reviewed before now to start” and am thrilled at the possibility of such a simple measure creating “a new era of criticism in Canada”.  On this Canada Day long weekend, I delight in this prospect as I await the arrival by post of the poetry that, upon joining CWILA, I promptly signed up to review (as per Lista’s prediction). I have never read the poetry of the woman whom I will shortly be reviewing. Will I like this poetry? I am not sure. Will I give this book a “good” or “bad” review? I can promise you that I will endeavour to do neither.


            Until being inspired by CWILA’s numbers, I had not asked to review a book in over two years. Reviewing books is difficult and time-consuming work. I—like all of us spurred on by those pie charts, now contemplating whether to review—have been busy. For writers, as Lista acknowledges in his interview on the CWILA website, the work of writing a review takes concentrated time that could be spent writing our own poetry, novels, books of essays, dissertations, and lists of things-to-do-before-imminent-death. Yet a review is also a work of art. It is a piece of literature. Like the literature one contemplates and reads and re-reads when one is given the task of reviewing, reviews themselves should surely be able to move beyond simply being sycophantic or invective, simply “good” or “bad” in a Hollywood Western sense. Nor do I think a reviewer who has truly spent time with a book will feel simply love and hate for their object of study. If we as critics “honeymoon” with books, as Lista suggests, then surely, like on a real honeymoon, our thinking and feeling will be complex, nuanced, not-what-we-expected.


The thing about literature is that its very existence complicates our understanding of the concepts of good and bad and love and hate. Truth’s many facets are revealed when we read. Our ability to see beauty changes when we look at, and think about, art. I, for one, think there is the potential for us to be transformed through nearly any piece of literature: through graffiti on a bus, through a student’s piece in a workshop, through the poetry of John Donne, through a thoughtful review. After reading a book we will not be who we were when we began. Or, as Lista writes, “a work of art reorients your whole perspective”. Isn’t an addiction to this reorienting experience why we also read the Books section of the National Post? We as readers are so addicted to the mind-altering experience of books that we will seek out articles and reviews even remotely related to reading books.


            I agree with Lista that one of the purposes of a review is “to begin a conversation, not to end it”; but, in my experience, conversation requires hospitality. Doesn’t insult typically shut down the desire for conversation? And isn’t it possible that the timidity or introversion of those writers Lista relegates to law school will yield a literary conversation as compelling as the work from those of us who happen to be extroverts? If a review is also a piece of literature, ought a review not also aspire to be as complex, complicated, and aware-of-form as the work of our most astonishing writers? It is because I agree with Lista that I am surprised to find his own practices do not reflect his stated principles. When reviewing, Lista does not read carefully or accurately. He brings irrelevant observations to bear on a text, so that the particular focus his review remains unclear: is he talking about the book before him, or the free-associations occurring while he reads? He frequently employs insult and invective in his reviews. After reading a review by Lista I am left wondering, is it not possible to share aspects of a work that are difficult for us as a reviewer to appreciate without being, well, assholes to each other? After all, Lista reminds us that we are “adult” and “professional”.  Can’t we aim toward the complex rather than the scathing?


            If we can agree on doing better than writing reviews that fall into dichotomies of invective or flattery, then I am left wondering what is wrong with Jan Zwicky’s idea that when reviewing we listen. What is wrong with her suggestion that “we give over our attention fully to the other, that we stop worrying about who’s noticing us, that we let the ego go”? We make better lovers when we listen. Isn’t the most mind-blowing sex had when we aren’t worried about what we look like naked or what others will think hearing our pleasure from the open fire-escape window? What I have heard from listening to Zwicky’s essay is not to keep my mouth shut, but to endeavour to find genuine delight in the texture and impulse of the words before me. To think. To be critical. To write about the experience of reading in a way that is as complex as reading is itself. To see if my rules and habits can be changed. (And, if my habits are so stolid that they can’t be changed by the poetry I’m given, perhaps to return the books for another reviewer to read, and request something else.) My reading of CWILA’s pie charts, and my choice to join the organization, was an understanding that CWILA’s mandate is not just quantitative (this isn’t just about adding more women and stirring), but is also qualitative, it is about changing the culture of reviewing in this country. My reading of CWILA’s pie charts makes me think that changing rules and habits is what this continuing conversation is actually all about.




How exciting!



The Lightning Field has been nominated for an Atlantic Book Award!

Go Peter and Lucy!

Here is some more information on this wonderful nomination:





The winners will be announced at a special awards show on Thursday, May 17, at 7:00 p.m. at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Reading at the Fromagerie in Sudbury on Thursday December 29th

I'll be joining the fabulous Heiti brothers at Sudbury's fabulous Fromagerie Elgin on the 29th of December. Doors open at 7pm. Cozy up for some holiday cheer.

All Over Town

I'll be here and there and everywhere in the next few weeks. If you'd like to say hello, take a look at at my Readings page.


I have a few confessions to make to you.

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