Priscila Uppal


Griffin Poetry Prize 2007
Canadian Shortlist

Book: Ontological Necessities

Poet: Priscila Uppal

Publisher: Exile Editions

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Priscila Uppal


Priscila Uppal is the author of four previous collections of poetry: How to Draw Blood From a Stone (1998); Confessions of A Fertility Expert (1999); Pretending to Die (2001); Live Coverage (2003) and a novel, The Divine Economy of Salvation (2002), which was published by Doubleday in Canada and Algonquin Books of Chapel Hall in the United States, and translated into Dutch and Greek. Her poetry has been translated into Korean, Croatian, Latvian, and Italian. She is professor of Humanities at York University and co-ordinator of York’s Creative Writing Program. Priscila Uppal lives in Toronto, Canada.

Priscila Uppal’s vibrant energy imbued everything from her academic and literary work to how she engaged with colleagues, students, friends and readers. Her poetry collection Ontological Necessities graced the Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist in 2007, and she supported and brightened every Griffin occasion she could attend. She most recently joined us for the 2018 awards evening this past spring. At the news of her passing on September 5, 2018, our deepest sympathies go to her loved ones, and to all who admired and connected with her work.

Priscila Uppal and Christopher Doda

Judges’ Citation

“Who are you? One of Priscila Uppal’s poems keeps asking itself. Are you the oyster shell of the new millennium, the sundial waitress in her two-bit automobile with a license to fish, the wristwatch of the nation, the woman’s shelter of the soul? The poems in Ontological Necessities are all that and much more. Audacious, irreverent, funny and, at the same time, deeply serious, they explore our notions of identity and various other conventions we live by striving to see through the lies. The ever-present horrors of our age; the injustice, the violence, the abuse and slaughter of the innocent, are almost always present. Uppal is a political poet who sounds like no other political poet, someone bound to get in trouble in every political system in the world. Her subject matter tends to be dark, but her telling of it is exhilarating. Every poem in her book comes as a surprise, and that includes the free translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem ‘The Wanderer’ with which the book concludes, and which in her version deals with the Iraq war and the fate of people displaced by such calamities. Uppal has done the rare and difficult thing: she has brought a brand new voice to poetry.”


In Ontological Necessities, Priscila Uppal investigates the emotional and philosophical struggle fundamental to notions of being in the 21st century. From poems that explore questions of identity to those that attempt to examine human relationships amid the onslaught of horrors depicted daily in the news, this collection uses surrealist and absurdist language in subversive and startling ways to grapple with the increasingly absurd world we all occupy.

Note: Summaries are taken from promotional materials supplied by the publisher, unless otherwise noted.

Priscila Uppal reads Sorry, I Forgot to Clean Up After Myself

Sorry, I Forgot to Clean Up After Myself, by Priscila Uppal

Sorry, I Forgot to Clean Up After Myself

Sorry, Sirs and Madams, I forgot to clean up after myself
after the unfortunate incidents of the previous century.

How embarrassing; my apologies. I wouldn’t advise you
to stroll around here without safety goggles, and I must insist
that you enter at your own risk. You may, however, leave
your umbrella at the door. Just keep your ticket.

We expected, of course, to have this all cleared away by the time
you arrived. The goal was to present you
with blue and green screens, whitewashed counters.

Unforeseen expenses.
Red tape.
So hard to find good help these days.

But, alas, excuses. Perhaps you will appreciate
the difficulties I’ve faced in providing you a clean slate.
If you step into a hole, Sirs and Madams, accept the loss
of a shoe or two. Stay the course.

Progress is the mother of invention. Here: take my hand.
Yes, that’s right. You can return it on the way back.

From Ontological Necessities, by Priscila Uppal
Copyright © 2006 by Priscila Uppal

More about Priscila Uppal

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Photo credit: Christopher Doda

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