Michelle Porter is a Red River Métis poet, journalist, and editor. She holds degrees in journalism, folklore, and geography (Ph.D.). She currently lives in St. John’s Newfoundland. Inquiries is the debut collection of her poems.
I’m assuming that the book’s title is tied to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The poems within Inquiries are all tied together taking a hard look at the hardscrabble life of a Métis woman and her children eking out an existence near the Red River (and sometimes in NL), moving when the rent cannot be paid, leaving memories and items behind (a dollhouse that wouldn’t fit in the station wagon, gym sneakers left in a school locker). “What you leave behind never stays where you left it.” (from Leaving Calgary)
Some of the poems have places and dates for titles as if recalling them from memory (and not always pleasant ones at that), such as Whiteway Street, 2008:
All she ever says about it is she rented
the place by phone before they ever got
to the city. Never fought anyone before, not
like that. Did it for her kids. Swore
she’d call the health inspectors,
threatened til the landlord let her off the
lease. Knew she had him by the balls.
The most evocative poems are the sixteen instalments of “Mama’s Kitchens” in which the kitchen “can’t stop talking” about all the things it sees and hears. As the kitchen seems to be the centre of activity in the house it sees and hears a lot.
“…the kitchen can’t stop talking about its one window, retelling legends about/a tree, spinning tales to the picnic table and the tall wooden fence/gossiping about the neighbours who pray on the right side and about their steel sink.”
Ms. Porter excels at evoking the starkness of the family’s situation in this excerpt from The Joints of the Stories: Mama’s Kitchens II:
The kitchen cupboard
the fiddle on the chair,
the outhouse over there,
the sewing machine in the corner,
the woodstove a hibernating
bear, and seven half-breed
brothers and sisters who’ve misplaced
the stories created to save them.
Then, as a change, Ms. Porter gives us Manolis L Off Duck Island, Notre Dame about the shipwreck of the Manolis L in 1985 off the Change Islands in 300ft. of water. The ship was full of fuel oil, the bulk of which was not safely removed until 2018. Here’s an excerpt:
There’s this cofferdam between us and disaster. Eight tanks
of oil in a wreck in the North Atlantic. Lord—the hull is cracked
and it’s leaking faster. Sweet Jesus, we can apply neoprene
plaster. We can drop sand bags over every leak and nick, but
there’s only a cofferdam between us and disaster.
All in all, Inquiries is an example of the power of a poet’s pen. How they can distill and summarize emotions, places and events into a few sentences amazes me and always will. I’m adding Inquiries to the Best Poetry category for the 2020 “The Very Best!” Book Awards.
“Sharp-edged, beautiful, poignant, funny, and rich with love.” – Lee Maracle
Inquiries by Michelle Porter
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