Cane | Fire by Shani Mootoo

I’ve read (and loved) some of Shani Mootoo’s novels, but her poetry was new to me. I originally picked up Cane | Fire and thought I might read a couple of poems before bed, late in the evening. A couple of poems, a very nice pre-sleep idea, right? I was drawn into Mootoo’s poetry and art immediately and stayed up later than I intended to inhale the whole collection. If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is. But, just in case you need a bit more to convince you to read it, I guess I’ll expand.

“Holding this book, and experiencing the way the art is laid out on the page was a true experience by itself. When the poems are brought into the experience, it’s further elevated.”

Cane | Fire is described in the copy as something of a “poetic memoir,” recalling Mootoo’s life in Ireland, Trinidad, and Canada. Mootoo uses verse, space and art to create the images and feelings here in the collection, to great effect: even the use of different colours of font, from light grey to denote something quieter to other colours for emphasis of a point, or to draw your eye to a specific part. Holding this book, and experiencing the way the art is laid out on the page was a true experience by itself. When the poems are brought into the experience, it’s further elevated.

The poem which has sat in my mind the most since I read Cane | Fire is “Inventory,” which tells the story of a grandfather’s toiletries and a little girl peering in the drawers to see what was there, admiring all of the little items, like pens, Vick’s Vapo Rub, change and so on. In reading this poem, I was suddenly 5 years old and peering through my grandparents’ drawers at their house, looking at the little perfume bottles, the pills (as Mootoo writes in the poem, “Don’t play with that!”), pens and handkerchiefs. All of these things belonged to people I loved who no longer had children around all of the time, and weren’t as careful about tucking things away. And then, in the poem, the little girl listens for movement and tries not to get caught. The images were so vivid that I felt the carpet in my grandparents’ house under my feet while reading it. I haven’t thought about the tiny perfume bottles my grandmother had in years, and when a poem pulls that out of you, it’s such a wonderful experience.

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The second section of the collection, which contains one poem titled “The Crick in the Crack,” was the best blend of text and art in the book. It’s lengthy, travelling through space and time – and following the way time feels, throughout life and how we remember events. While there were so many lovely poems in this collection, this was another standout because of its blend of art and text, weaving the art into the stanzas so seamlessly.

Cane | Fire is a stunning collection of poetry. I adore Mootoo’s fiction and can now be firmly counted as a fan of her poetry as well.


Shani Mootoo was born in Ireland, grew up in Trinidad, and lives in Canada. She holds an MA in English from the University of Guelph, writes fiction and poetry, and is a visual artist whose work has been exhibited locally and internationally. Mootoo’s critically acclaimed novels include Polar VortexMoving Forward Sideways Like a CrabValmiki’s DaughterHe Drown She in the Sea, and Cereus Blooms at Night. She is a recipient of the K.M. Hunter Arts Award, a Chalmers Fellowship Award, and the James Duggins Outstanding Midcareer Novelist Award. Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies and includes the collection, The Predicament of Or. In 2021 Mootoo was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Western University. Her work has been long- and shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Dublin IMPAC Award, and the Booker Prize. She lives in Prince Edward County, Ontario.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Book*hug Press (March 15 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 150 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771667419
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771667418

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