This month’s Snapshots are brought to you by three young Indigenous Canadian poets reviewing collections of Indigenous Canadian poetry (including not one but TWO takes on Rosanna Deerchild’s calling down the sky. Many thanks to our guest reviewers Molly Cross-Blanchard, Jordyn Pepin, and Joshua Whitehead.
Talking to the Diaspora
From the front cover detail to the perfect placement of a single letter, Maracle’s latest work of poetry is like no other. An artistic experience which envelops you, takes you on the journey of reclamation of language and finding the strength to overcome intergenerational trauma. Peppered throughout with familiar motifs of indigeneity, reading Maracle’s piece feels like a long, warm hug from Kokum. Including subjects ranging from the Oka crisis, MMIWG and the Gaza war - what resonates loudest is the healing process following these atrocities. Maracle’s piece sends hope to postcolonial Indigenous groups feeling uncertainty in retrieving what was once forcibly taken away. Ultimately, Talking to the Diaspora serves as a landscape drawing parallels between the stars of oppression, creating a constellation connecting the struggle of Indigenous groups worldwide.
Jordyn Pepin is a two-spirit Anishinaabe person from Sagkeeng First Nation. They are currently in their first year studies at the University of Manitoba. Jordyn hopes to become fluent in Anishinaabemowin and help other youth find strength in learning their language.
calling down the sky
Canadian Aboriginal Voices
“i would name her / tallest pine tree woman” says the speaker of her “mama,” a survivor of residential school on the Northern prairies. Throughout this poignant collection, Rosanna Deerchild shows us—through two distinct voices, a mother and daughter, a victim and witness—that survivor can be a loaded word, full of overestimations. A survivor feels the trauma in their “ruler broken bones,” in “the broken lines” of their “body that can never forget.” She has presented a narrative that is familiar to many of us, in such a way that we must viscerally feel “the silent violence,” but also the turning “toward home,” the breaking open of “a new day.” Deerchild’s economic use of line and stanza allows for a rich duplicity of language: “their long perfect braids / a measure of seasons / umbilical cord to mama / earth / a map back home / cut away.” This collection offers a quintessential depiction of not only the generational echoing of hurt (in its every manifestation) caused by residential school abuse, but also the exceptional strength that is cultivated because of it.
Molly Cross-Blanchard is a Metis writer attending her final year at the University of Winnipeg, and is currently drowning in grad school application paperwork. Her poetry is forthcoming in CV2 and The Malahat Review.
calling down the sky
Canadian Aboriginal Voices
There is a “a crack in her bone memory,” Rosanna Deerchild writes of her mother, “that is felt for generations”. Deerchild’s calling down the sky is an elegy of recuperation, preservation, resurgence. And I deploy the term elegy to not only point to its lamentation for the dead—for it is surely full of ghosts—but also for its musicality, for its singing to and for life. As the speaker of Deerchild’s book reminds us, “everyone wants to know / how a half-deaf girl / makes it out alive,” to which she answers: “it was dose two little birds eh / dey sang me free”. calling down the sky is a serious reflection and interpolation of settler colonialism in Canada, its felt effects, its embodied affects, and its longevity through blood and memories. It is an archive that is told through story; or, as Deerchild writes, it is a picture book “that do[es] not exist,” a “gift of memories” that are bundled together like medicine. At the same time, it is a lesson in survivance, a methodology of resilience that posits Indigenous feminisms as the nexus of strength, a constellation of stubborn bones that defy, bones that will not allow even “the mother of God” to “scrape the Cree / from [them]”.
Joshua Whitehead is an Oji-Cree, Two-Spirit member of Peguis First Nation on Treaty 1 territory. He is currently studying at the University of Calgary for a Ph.D. in Indigenous Literatures in Cultures.
November’s Snapshots is brought to you by twos, threes, and eights, because in these troubled times of monolithic opinions and personalities, multiplicity seems like a thing worth pursuing. Also brought to you by Davis Plett, Winnipeg based poet, musician, and theatre artist. Catch his work on Erin Shields’ play, Beautiful Man, playing at Theatre Projects Manitoba November 17th – 27th!
Goose Lane Editions
“The only thing I fear,” says the speaker of “Elusive Structure,” “is becoming illutable—an old / way of saying ‘unable to be / washed way.” Ali Blythe’s poems are permeable; they breathe; they create space for identities and expressions that wash away, that are “unable to be,” that are unable to achieve being’s solidity and certainty and don’t really want to anyways. The idea of “two” in these poems does not delineate a division but rather suggests a fluidity and a possibility. Bodies are unwrapped to reveal a generous ambiguity: “It isn’t always / about orifices. // But I am the lunatic sliding fingers in [….] A young Hermaphroditus / undressing in the pool.” A movie’s underwater breath-holding contest ends in uncertainty: “One friend / returns to the surface to die. // The other never resurfaces. / The audience is left to wonder.” Art teaches strange lessons: “I think / about the Dutch artist who learned / to make actual indoor clouds / that dissipate even as one admires / their understanding of existence.” “I become and become,” concludes the speaker of “Elusive Structure.” “I’m sorry to those / who will find nothing left of me.”
The central preoccupation in Sarah Tolmie’s collection is the triangular relationship—the relational trio that, like the infamous three-wheeler atv, is apt to topple. Rivals and poets, children and academics, lovers real and imagined—all of these form pyramids, with their sonnet-spouting speaker at their pinnacle. One hundred and twenty fourteen line poems, replete with requisite rhymes and tumultuous times, plumb the depths of lust, longing, and satisfyingly meta-poetic musings. Some choice lines: “Sequence is not important. I have two / First memories of you”; “Cuddle me gently and don’t talk, dumb jock”; “The love of a poet is a bullet. [….] People flee without knowing what it means”; “Third spring since this began, I am afraid: / Troilus and Criseyde and Diomede. [….] This production / Is low rent. Criseyde does not get laid / But writes the book.” Trio’s concluding poem offers a dichotomy: “You fish the fish or you fish the water: / Two schools of thought from The Compleat Angler / And two theories of love.” Unsurprisingly, the poetics of Sarah Tolmie don’t allow that binary to stand. There is a third theory of love, but this Snapshot leaves it out of the frame and invites you to discover it for yourself.
Patrick Warner’s Octopus has eight arms and can fit through improbably small holes. There are few places it can’t go, and it’ll try to go to them anyways. With a greater narrative focus than Trio or Twoism, Octopus tells tales of drug-addled clubbers (“Her tiny palm / is divided in four by a cross, / each quadrant bearing a postage stamp, // each embossed with a propelling octopus. / ‘To make you swim where few have swum,’ she says. [….] I dab one on the snail-mail of my tongue”), pun-preoccupied agricultural crops (“The pin-head cobs knock heads together, / trade thoughts, as though they were watched, / as though they are afraid to say. They find / camouflage in corny gags and cliché”), and chic boulders (“a forgotten / grey / hoodie / slung / on a boulder / blends in so / well I think / this devil-ma- / care / erratic / has shrugged / off / the yoke / of function / and / grown a style”). A collection that happily wanders the seven seas.
It's September, perhaps you should enjoy these Snapshots with a hot chocolate!
Gruber’s playful visions of marine life lovers, and disastrous dives are kept afloat by a spunky buoyancy of vocabulary and, in spite of the speaker’s assertion in the first “Prologue” that they “can’t hold onto anything,” thematic control. The embodied and the erotic encounter nature again and again with gorgeous tactility. In the madcap car journeys recounted in “Hanged Woman,” “A sticky ball of baby / spiders nests against your corduroy purse. / They spill onto your lap and spring into the world / writhe against your thighs.” “Flash Flood” sees lovers eating pizza, “sprawl[ing] the bed in holey underwear,” “nabashedly human,” “[c]ourse ringlets wash[ing] up against inlet groin.” The collection concludes with a series of poems considering the pros and cons of choosing various underwater animals as your lover (the reasons not to choose the “blue dragon” are stated simply as “You are the real live Pokemon. Pocket monster.” Buoyancy Control is an aquatic caper, a poetic sea change, a colourful expedition into intimacy and language. Dive in.
Slow States of Collapse
Culled from an impressive list of journal and anthology publications, Ashley-Elizabeth Best’s debut collection, Slow States of Collapse, is preoccupied with conflict: the poems' speakers grapple with the complexities of family, ponder romantic relationships, and discover the politics of hospitalization. A speaker’s “carrion heart is stabled / beside deposits of nostalgia” while “[h]is empty flattery mumbled / into rogue word drifts.” Mothers say “be good or be gone,” and doctors “want to know / what my body has been up / to lately.” It is the most diverse of the collections in terms of subject matter, but the loosely collected suites of poems that conclude Slow States of Collapse hint that Best’s future books might take any of the numerous themes she explores with her debut and explore them in a more sustained way than she does here. An intriguing arrival on the Canadian literary landscape and, perhaps, a sort of overture of things to come.
Under the Stone
An unnamed child lives in cell #804 on level 5969 of the Tower. A murderous father kills the child’s siblings and the Tower’s sanitary staff clear the bodies without question. The outside world exists only as a horrific televised wasteland, a fabled void of terror. And everywhere, there is concrete. A prose poem of brutal, even brutalist proportions, Under the Stone is a fascinating monotony, a tower of words split into discrete parenthetical blocks, a dystopian monument to oppressive systems of knowledge. By far the most serious and stylistically restrained of these collections, Under the Stone exists on the fault line between novel and poem, exploring a monochromatic world haunted by the ghost of self-conscience. Dark but deeply engaging.