Jacob Scheier, poet, essayist, journalist, teacher (born 2 February 1980 in Toronto, ON). Jacob Scheier’s first book, More to Keep Us Warm, won the 2008 Governor General’s Award for Poetry, making him one of the youngest poets to receive that distinction.
Early Life and Education
Jacob Scheier came to poetry through his mother, Canadian poet and activist Libby Scheier, best known for her work Kaddish for My Father. Scheier began writing poetry at the age of 16, which he thought of as song lyrics. When his mother became ill with breast cancer, he discovered that writing poetry felt calming and helped him manage his grief on her death. Scheier believes that a good poem will let you feel what you need to feel, while also appealing intellectually and spiritually. Scheier attended Ryerson University in Toronto and graduated from York University with a degree in Humanities.
More to Keep Us Warm
Scheier’s first book of poetry, More to Keep Us Warm (2007), is filled with humour and a confidence rarely seen in first collections. The poems are daring in their honesty about the assumed norms of life, from parents to war. In his long poem “Genesis,” shaped on the calendar of the bible verses, Scheier details the ancient conflict between intuition and rationality. His mother provides the impulse for lyrical language and forges his first connections to the natural world: “[She] taught me the names / of the fowl of the air / and every beast in the field.” In turn, his father gives him the stringent boundaries of the rational world: “He had many letters after his name, / blessing him / with authority. / He cured, not with touch or speech, / but something small and round / to swallow.” Those small and round pills of reality choke off the power of his mother’s language, resulting in a loss the poet feels diminishes his real self.
Scheier’s best-known poem, “Big Band Music,” is a sharp anti-war poem whose sad tone suggests nostalgia marked by layers of loss:
It is music meant for how our bodies used to be,
before the dance steps we learned
became a talent for avoiding the land mines beneath our feet.
There is something in the pace of the rhythm,
how it doesn’t slow to take in a landscape
how it assumes the world will still be there
when the music stops.
More to Keep Us Warm won the Governor General’s Literary Prize for English Poetry in 2008.
Scheier’s second volume of poetry, Letter From Brooklyn (2013), is full of humour, wisdom and an acceptance that betrays the age of the poet. Having taken six years to create, many of the poems are based loosely on the conversations he had with the Brooklyn Bridge and himself as he traversed the bridge while living in New York. In “The World-Changing Business,” Scheier bridges his difficulty accepting his father’s views with a deep respect for his father’s politics and the process of coming to understand his father’s vision:
The world-changing business
was the family business. My father
took me to the storefront at the edge of history,
saying one day all this will be yours.
But our store was the world and it wasn't
supposed to belong to anyone
or it was supposed to belong to all of us.
I didn't understand it either.
For the world already was that way
when I was a child.
Throughout the poem, he suggests that his father’s world was childlike in its inability to accept the complex consequences of the real world, “The way of owning nothing. / I thought the business was to make us all / children one day. Yet childhood / was disappointing.” Scheier’s subtlety is both poignant and powerful, drawing a picture of a man whose perception of the world was as naive and ineffectual as that of a child.
Jacob Scheier's poetry and essays have been published in a wide range of literary journals, including Descant, Geist and Rattle. His poetry inspired a contemporary dance performance and he appeared at the 2014 International Festival of Authors. He is a contributing journalist to the National Post and NOW Magazine. Scheier has volunteered as a peer facilitator with Bereaved Families of Ontario since 2008 and has regularly facilitated workshops on writing about grief since 2011.