Book details

Publication date: July 2015
Features: Notes
Series: Robert Kroetsch Series
Keywords: Poetry
Subject(s): POETRY / Canadian, Creative Writing, Creative Writing / Poetry, Poetry, Canadian Literature, Poetry, Philosophy, SCIENCE / Cosmology, SCIENCE / Philosophy & Social Aspects, Cosmology & the universe, PHILOSOPHY / Metaphysics, Poetry, Science
Publisher(s): The University of Alberta Press

Alice Major. Alice Major emigrated from Scotland at the age of eight, and grew up in Toronto before coming west to work as a weekly newspaper reporter. She served as the City of Edmonton’s first poet laureate from 2005–2007. A widely-published author, she has won many distinctions. Her most recent book, Intersecting Sets: A Poet Looks at Science, received the Wilfrid Eggleston Award for non-fiction as well as a National Magazine Award gold medal. Her website is

"Alice Major’s 10th poetry collection, Standard candles, covers a huge distance in its slim text, racing through a dozen different poetic forms and countless cosmologies. It references everything from Greek mythology to quantum uncertainty to Henrietta Swan Leavitt, the inventor of the standard candle itself. The book is like an ultra-dense kernel containing all things—history, theology, astronomy, geometry, an infinite list. It’s the universe right before the Big Bang, titanic forces contained within a few thousand tightly packed words, almost ready to explode and race endlessly out." [Full review at]

Bruce Cinnamon, Vue Weekly

#6 on the Edmonton Journal's Bestsellers list (Edmonton Nonfiction) for the week of November 06 2015.

The Edmonton Journal

#10 on the Edmonton Journal's Bestsellers list for the week of November 13, 2015.

The Edmonton Journal

"In her latest poetry collection, Standard candles, Alice Major continues to draw from science as a source of metaphor to ground the big ideas floating around the universe. Like Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson, who bring scientific concepts to a public consciousness in their documentary television shows, Major takes up the poet's essential challenge to make grand concepts accessible and relatable to the reader. The result is a collection of thoughtfully crafted suites that feel mythological or biblical in scale, yet as familiar and common as our offices or kitchens.... In reading Standard candles, there is the potential for a most palpable experience of having one's mind blown. Readers will certainly find themselves putting the book down to stare out the window at the night sky and feel a sense of loneliness wrapped in communion." Prairie Books Now, Fall/Winter 2015

Steve Locke, Prairie Books Now

#9 on the Edmonton Journal's Bestsellers list for the week of January 16, 2016.

The Edmonton Journal

"In her poetry she uses her knowledge of specialised – even arcane – fields in the same way that British playwrights Tom Stoppard and Michael Frayn have done: to provide startling and vivid analogies with the human dynamics of a complex emotional universe with which her readers will be more familiar. This is a handsomely produced and carefully organized book, divided into themed sections.... This substantial collection gives ample evidence of Major’s poetic craft and verbal dexterity.... [A] fine collection." [Full review at]

Michael Bartholomew-Biggs,

"The result is a study of the universe, certainly, but also of childhood wonder, hardscrabble wisdom and inevitable grief... To Major, [standard candles] isn't just euphonious, it's a poignant metaphor for mortality, loss and the connectedness of all things."

Brent Wittmeier, Edmonton Journal

" of Alice Major’s strengths is her ability to introduce an idea as sweeping as ‘science’ and distill it down to a moment, a memory, an object. No one but Major could have written this book: in a way no other poet consistently does, she grasps the edges of the universe and pulls it into a headlock. Her work has the precision of Leonard Cohen (whom she purposely invokes): a rare ability to condense the monumental into the quietly personal." [Full review at]

Kimmy Beach, ARC Poetry Magazine

"[In Standard candles, Major] has everything that I most love, most want, in poetry: wit, startling originality, the power to move without a shred of sentimentality or manipulation – and perhaps most of all, the ability to take you somewhere new both intellectually and experientially.” [Full post at]

Katherine Venn,

"In this book Major provides us with some STEAM, i.e., Science Technology Engineering Art Math! She uses geometry, math and theories as entry points into slices of domestic life. Her poems are precise in their diction, dense in their content, and technically proficient. The entire work is a dense and beautiful existential rumination. The comparisons and metaphors are fresh and unexpected."

Juror, 2016 Stephan G. Stephansson Award

"Standard candles is also a poetic inquiry of sorts – a skillful exploration of the overlap between poetry and science/mathematics. The poems range from abstract and philosophical to imagery-rich and personal. The book asks questions and puts forward theories that playfully push at the bounds of both science and poetry – for example, positing a pantheon of gods and goddesses in charge of various aspects of the universe and its creation. A high level of poetic skill informs this work, and the sections build upon one another to create a complex and varied collection."

Juror, 2016 Stephan G. Stephansson Award

"Standard candles works on so many levels. It demonstrates the capacity of poetry to make connections between subjects of varying complexities with very intentional word combinations, strong sounds, complete conceits, different forms and material grounded in the quotidian, scientific and mythical. Each chapter, with a consistent theme or question and built upon, has a strength that if extracted they could easily stand on their own like an individual collection. Throughout, the individual poems are exceptional, each feeling complete because of their spine or axis that the theme(s), conceits and word choices support."

Juror, 2016 Stephan G. Stephansson Award

"I always look forward to reading a new book by Alice. Her genius is very well represented by your press, in my opinion" Neil Querengesser, Concordia Univesity

League of Canadian Poets / Raymond Souster Award, Canada
Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry – Alberta Literary Awards, Canada
Robert Kroetsch Award for Poetry, Alberta Book Awards, Book Publishers Association of Alberta, Canada
xi Sonnet for Valentine’s

The set of all gods
2 The god of prime numbers
3 The god of infinities
4 The god of symmetry
5 The god of gravity
6 The god of salt
7 The god of kites and darts
8 The god of quantum uncertainty
9 The god of probabilities
10 The baker god
11 The god of automata
12 The god of teapots
14 The god of cats
16 The god of sparrows
17 The god of hearts
18 The jeweller god
19 The god of dark
20 The god of memory
21 The muse of universes

Ordinary matter
24 Ordinary matter
26 Vacuum fluctuations
27 The helium thoughts
28 Advice to the lovelorn
30 Three-body problem
31 Love in three dimensions
32 Heavy elements
33 Local bubble
34 Catechism

Standard candles
40 1 Address | 1959
42 2 Clouds of glory | 1908
45 3 Pythagorean theorem | 1965
46 4 Triangulation | 1808
49 5 The end of greatness | 2000
51 6 In the Castle of Stars | 1576
54 7 Supernova Type 1A | 1997
57 8 Then death returns
59 9 In all that void
60 10 Looking out to the dark | December 1928
62 11 d = (X- x)2 + (Y- y)2 + (Z- z)2 - c(T-t)2 | now
64 A prayer to bring you home

Muscle of difficulty
68 Muscle of difficulty
70 Yet another crack in the foundation
72 Day’s eye
74 Expanding space
76 The movers’ dilemma
78 Rectangularization of the morbidity curve
80 Now, that amphibious moment
81 To the generations that will live a thousand years
82 Last scattering surface

Let us compare cosmologies
86 1 Let us compare cosmologies
87 2 The Orphic follower
88 3 A pope
89 4 The evangelist
90 5 The philosophical skeptic
91 6 The nihilist
92 7 The totalitarian
93 8 The survivalist
94 9 The optimist
95 10 The magician
96 11 The baker
97 12 The consumer
98 13 The funeral director
99 14 The Manichean
100 15 The artist

Sins and virtues
102 Avarice
104 Lust
105 Gluttony
107 Envy
108 Pride
110 Anger
111 Sloth
113 Mercy
115 Hope

Shifting wavelengths
118 Tortoise and fern
120 Fingers of God
121 The barber’s paradox
122 Zeno’s paradox
123 Twin paradox
124 Sand reckonings: Eubulides’ paradox
125 Honeycomb conjectures
127 Bee violet
128 Optical molasses
129 Life adapts to inhospitable environments
130 How to tell a Martian my heart is on the left

132 Persephone and I are underground
135 The outer dark
138 Cocytus
142 Niflheim
145 The man with no hands
147 Each of us the centre of a circle

150 God submits a grant application to the Canada Council
153 Notes
163 Acknowledgements

ISBNs: 9781772120912 978-1-77212-091-2 Title: standard candles ISBNs: 9781772121162 978-1-77212-116-2 Title: standard candles ISBNs: 9781772121179 978-1-77212-117-9 Title: standard candles ISBNs: 9781772121186 978-1-77212-118-6 Title: standard candles