This poetry collection acts as a mandala of the whole range of living, subjects, styles and moods. It is not a book driving its one point six feet into the ground.
There are threads of Porcupine dedicated to grandmother, of defining one’s culture for oneself and of critiquing the binding institutions and systems. There’s vivid poignancy in personal threads such as “Scraps from Summer Visits” and “Rueful”.
Hunt doesn’t amusingly caper around issues as if dancing with a column holding up the glass ceiling. This text is informative if you want to bring yourself up to speed with Reconciliation. It is not facile answers but a laying out of facts.
“there are no good settlers, because settler colonialism is a structural relation that abdicates and ignores healthy ways of relating to one another. there are no good relations within asymmetrical relations” (p. 88)
He writes of the kid who slipped away from “care” to hang himself in “healing, suspended”. It is hard to convey in summary but each line rings perfectly and you must read this, along with the whole book.
“In Dancing Yellow Thunder” he portrays the man drunk and dancing at the Legion but with his eyes, we can see the more complex social dance behind the dance and feel for him as the speaker promises,
“next time, i will dance with you, Raymond, and we will stomp our boots so hard we’ll create sparks that rise to the heavens” (p. 17)
It’s complemented by the poem “spiralling.” Likewise, there’s the tender note of connection and gratitude in “Kinanâskomitin”
pin cherries that are / just trying / to make it / to autumn intact, / as we all/so often / are (p. 14)
It’s a work of heard and head. It’s a work that comes out of frustration and anger but also buoyancy and determination. It explains so we get it in a visceral way.
“a white man is a fist, / he will outlive you / by two decades/ and be / celebrated / for it— / “it’s always / a shame,” / he crows, / “to outlive / your children”— and he / will cry / at your / wake, / sombre, / uninvited, / but relieved, / at peace, / and full / of cheer.” (p. 60)
Even if we don’t know that particular “mourner” don’t we all know that flippant guy who has all the glib answers and philosophical distance when we frankly ache.
He pulls no punches. Is it still called cynical and witty when is it’s spot-on true? “the Cree word for white man is unpaid child support” (p. 10). He calls out the idea that every top billing “every ndn memoir/is about residential schools”. Life’s wider than that.
The book interrogates rather than heckles. Hunt delves past surface easy tropes of being indigenous in Canada. What is the role of institutions in creating medical crisis? Prejudice and racism creates medical crisis which creates legal infractions. This overall structure ignores that “being “impaired” is when one / actually might/ need /care.” (p. 20) Care is community and solutions to the underlying problems, not policing the outcomes of the system at work. How to stay tender when treated callously. How to deal with the lousy hand dealt?
As you read, White person, can you feel your own privilege when he writes of the food deserts, diabetes and arthritis, a legacy “when trauma makes a house with/in your bones” (p.74). These are not individual choices but the summary of the collective choices visiting on the individual.
Among the poems of identity, he addresses the recent crop of white poser Indigenous.
“glad you “found” your Indigeneity, but that didn’t prevent ndns from eating fried bologna sandwiches for eight years because no one would hire our mothers for meaningful (read: not menial) labour.” (p. 87)
Likewise, Aisha Sasha John said, in To Stand at the Precipice Alone and Repeat What is Whispered (Ugly Duckling Press, 2021), “what I’ve acquired has to be relayed from infancy.”
Unlike awâsis — kinky and dishevelled by Louise B. Halfe Sky Dancer (Brick Books, 2021) the Cree words are not translated and in the sidebar, nor italicized as if telegraphing other. There’s a dual audience, to in-group and to other who are the non-Indigenous readers. He deftly nods, aware of where he stands,
“when I say “tuguy,”/ this same settler smiles / to themself, having / mastered the vernacular, / hung around the edges just / enough to be in the know, / titillated and satiated.” (p. 108)
Which just made me laugh out loud, as did many of the poems. To my discredit, I gobbled this the first time inside of three days. Compelling reading and much worth taking time to reread, as I did for the next month.
And in case you’re curious, the title comes from the Cree Land Mini Mart in Regina whose name seems to encapsulate the concept of what it is like to be Cree now, to be in joy and community despite the violence.
Dallas Hunt is Cree and a member of Wapsewsipi (Swan River First Nation) in Treaty Eight territory in northern Alberta. He has had creative work published in Contemporary Verse 2, Prairie Fire, PRISM international and Arc Poetry. His first children’s book, Awâsis and the World-famous Bannock, was published through Highwater Press in 2018 and was nominated for several awards. Hunt is an assistant professor of Indigenous literatures at the University of British Columbia.
- Publisher : Nightwood Editions (April 24 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 128 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0889713928
- ISBN-13 : 978-0889713925
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