For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe: New and Selected Poems

For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe: New and Selected Poems

Gary Barwin
  • $25.00

October 22, 2019
256 pages | ISBN 978-1-928088-95-0

**Finalist for the 2021 Hamilton Literary Award for Poetry**

For thirty-five years, award-winning poet Gary Barwin has been been one of Canada's most daring and innovative writers. In this long-awaited volume of new and selected poems, Barwin and editor Alessandro Porco draw from previously published, uncollected and unpublished works to create a category-defying collection. Written with  audacity, idealism and the occasional wisecrack, Barwin's poems arise from questions of aesthetics, identity, cultural history and ecopoetics, and explore the edges of language. For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe will enthrall Barwin's dedicated readers, as well as those only now discovering his work, as it establishes him as one of Canada's major poets.


For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe (Skylar Kay, Freefall, Fall 2021)
"Gary Barwin's collection felt like some kind of alliterative acid trip. [...] Between these trips, there are also poems that shock the reader back to reality with grounded and touching poems about family and Barwin's Jewish ancestry, focusing the vivid imagery back to a recognizable plane just long enough for a deep insight to human nature. The collection is a brilliant balance of insanity and insight."

For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe: New and Selected Poems, by Gary Barwin (Annick MacAskill, Antigonish Review, Winter 2021)
"What unites his diverse body of work is his interest in exploring recurring themes and myriad literary traditions in a variety of forms and registers. Depth, beauty, and spirituality glow from within Barwin's often surreal, always surprising lines."

Gary Barwin’s For it is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe: New & Selected Poems (Catherine Owen, Marrow Reviews, 05/11/2020)
"Barwin is an irreducible force as a maker: musician, artist, poet, fabulist and all around bon vivant of being fully alive. This New & Selected presents the range of his energies in as zingy and vivid a way as possible upon the limited field of the page."

Barwin anthology a crucial collection (Johnathan Ball, Winnipeg Free Press, 22/08/2020)
"Barwin’s best poems, like the underappreciated 'Shopping for Deer,' are among the best poems ever written in this country, and this collection stands apart. Absolutely stellar and necessary."

Mark Grenon Reviews Gary Barwin's For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe: New & Selected Poems (Mark Grenon, Hamilton Review of Books, 09/07/2020)
"This selection of work does a formidable job of pressing the blooming garden of [Barwin's] poetics into the vessel of this volume."

Book Review: Matthew Gwathmey / Gary Barwin (Matthew Gwathmey, Hamilton Arts & Letters, 14/05/2020)
"Will I return to it? Will I discover something new? Will I enjoy it afresh? Will something else come through? To answer those questions about Barwin's new & selected, I make four yeses generally powered by one feature: Barwinian wordplay."

Gary Barwin, For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe: New & Selected Poems, edited with an Introduction by Alessandro Porco (rob mclennan, rob mclennan's blog, 18/10/2019)
"A volume that can’t help but provide a spotlight on Barwin's playful, serious writing."


Poet Gary Barwin on learning about yourself during COVID-19 (Ontario Today, 19/06/2020)
Gary Barwin says the time alone with our thoughts is like our brains are a big Rolodex: you find things you like and things you'd rather forget.

Concentrating, Collaborating, and Clorox Wiping: A Roundtable Interview about Books and the Pandemic (Hamilton Review of Books, 15/05/2020)
"I'm working at home writing, teaching, and editing – I'm interacting on social media – but of course things are profoundly different. It’s both inspiring and unsettling at the same time."

E166 with GARY BARWIN (Jamie Tennant, Get Lit, 23/01/2020)
An interview with Gary about his poetry.


Poets in fine form despite a tough year (Johnathan Ball, Winnipeg Free Press, 26/12/2020)
Gary's collection is one of the Winnipeg Free Press's top 10 poetry books of 2020!

The Grunt of Grants (Gary Barwin, sheridangerous creative writhing, 07/10/2020)
Gary shares a short essay about grant writing.

Kimberly Alidio, Lisa Fishman, J.R. Carpenter, Gary Barwin + Rose Maloukis : virtual reading series #19 (periodicities : a journal of poetry and poetics, 06/08/2020)
Gary shares poems as part of periodicities' online reading series.

Writer's Block: Gary Barwin (All Lit Up, 03/07/2020)
Gary talks about his own fluid definition of ritual, the wonders of language and the "hurly-burly" of life as it's happening.

24 books to get your dad for Father's Day (CBC Books, 18/06/2020)
Gary's book makes the CBC's list of 24 books to get your dad for Father's Day.

Book Recommendations by Local Authors (Part 1) (Jamie Tennant, CFMU, 03/06/2020)
Gary shares what he's been reading during the pandemic.

22 Canadian poetry books to read to celebrate National Poetry Month (CBC Books, 17/04/2020)
Gary's collection makes the list of 22 Canadian poetry books to read to celebrate National Poetry Month.

A 'best of' list of 2019 Canadian poetry books (rob mclennan, DUSIE, 01/01/2020)
Gary's collection makes rob mclennan's list of best Canadian poetry of 2019.

The best Canadian poetry of 2019 (CBC Books, 10/12/2019)
"For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe brings together new and old work from acclaimed poet Gary Barwin. An inventive writer, Barwin showcases his range, playfulness and originality from the course of his 35-year career in this new book."

Graham Rockingham: Gary Barwin returns to his small press roots (Graham Rockingham, Hamilton Spectator, 11/11/2019)
"The more than 80 poems in the book draw from Barwin's 35 years as a published poet, along with a few new and previously unpublished works... are frequently subversive, sometimes hilarious and always evocative."

Beautiful Books: For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe (All Lit Up, 11/06/2019)
An interview with the Kilby Smith-McGregor, the designer of Gary's book.

23 collections of Canadian poetry to watch for this fall (CBC Books, 07/08/2019)
Gary's collection is among the 23 most anticipated poetry books coming this fall.

Fall preview 2019: Poetry, literature, and cultural studies (Steven W. Beattie, Quill & Quire, 22/07/2019)
Gary's book is listed in Quill & Quire's Fall 2019 Preview.


Award-winning author Gary Barwin reads a poem from his new book of poetry.
Watch Gary Barwin and friends at Knife Fork Book in Toronto on December 10, 2019.


Read an excerpt from For It Is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe

About the Author

Writer, musician and multimedia artist, Gary Barwin is the author of twenty-two books including the nationally bestselling novel Yiddish for Pirates, winner of the Leacock Medal for Humour, the Canadian Jewish Literary Award, and finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General's Award. He is a three-time recipient of the Hamilton Poetry Book of the Year, has received the Hamilton Arts Award for Literature and has co-won the bpNichol Chapbook Award and the K.M. Hunter Artist Award. Barwin has been writer-in-residence at McMaster University; the University of Western Ontario; Wilfrid Laurier University; the Toronto, Hamilton and London Public Libraries; Northern Ontario Writer's Workshop and Hillfield Strathallan College. He has taught writing in universities, colleges and in the community, including at McMaster University, King's College (Western University), Hillfield Strathallan College and Mohawk College. His work has been performed, exhibited and published internationally. He lives in Hamilton, Ontario, and at

Other Titles by This Author

No TV for Woodpeckers (2017)

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