Straggle: Adventures in Walking While Female by Tanis MacDonald

Schopenhauer’s remark that “walking is arrested falling” may certainly be applied to Tanis MacDonald’s Straggle: Adventures in Walking While Female, for there is much falling in her feminist account of her experience. Different from Huck Finn’s lighting out, Alice’s falling through a rabbit hole or Augie March’s American adventures of soaring, Straggle explores the difficulties of women walking in Winnipeg, Toronto, and Waterloo. Although the origins of “straggle” are uncertain, its proximity to struggle and stagger suggests an almost onomatopoeic awkwardness in this form of wandering. In her postcolonial, feminist ecopoetics MacDonald confronts the paths and pathos of humankind’s relationship to nature in the falls and pitfalls of language.

Straggle explores the difficulties of women walking in Winnipeg, Toronto, and Waterloo.”

The author returns to her native city to let multiple associations rain down on her: “I’m deep into my ragged and rattled memory of a place.” The poet of alliteration and onomatopoeia turns to rhyme: “I’m prone and alone,” and alludes to UK critic and disabled walker Mary Rose, who has coined “anarcho-flaneuse.” Walter Benjamin studied the flâneur and arcades of Paris almost 100 years ago. When Benjamin examined the dialectic between internal and external from the perspective of an outsider, MacDonald explores nature and humanity through the lens of a feminist flaneuse, disabled by sciatica and threatened by the male gaze. Instead of Parisian arcades, she focuses on other liminal spaces in the landscape.

The Canadian flaneuse gazes neither at Parisian arcades nor at Arcadian settings; rather, she sees and writes through other feminist writers. MacDonald writes through Cree poet Louise Bernice Halfe to arrive at the Cree word “wahkohtowin,” which means relationship plus energy. This generates a “crooked, bent-over way with all the crooks and crannies within a relationship that encompasses energy.” Instead of European metropolitan arcades we are offered an Indigenous view of bent human life in pockets and crannies, arrested falling that focusses on thresholds and endangered landscapes. Shod in sensibility and sensitivity, the flaneuse joins a community to study the flora and fauna of Canada.

MacDonald’s adventures include “The Deer in the Painting, “We, Megafauna,” “How to Get Lost in the Woods,” “How to Get Lost in Your Backyard,” and many other poetic portraits. En route she reminds us that all zoo stories are about colonization. She offers “footnotes on limps and struts,” and plays with language the way she played baseball as a child. In “Seeing Through the Rain: A Ghost Walk” she writes through Maureen Hynes’s poem, “Are you ladies lost?” This essay describes her feminist walking tour of Toronto’s Annex district to see Gwendolyn MacEwen Park, Jane Jacobs roseway, and Jay Macpherson Green. These are her ricochet arcades, ghost walks through liminal urban spaces. MacDonald’s odyssey straggles across Canada, seeing through rivers to their hidden sources, seeing through history to decolonize time.

An elegiac poet, MacDonald begins an online FaunaWatch project about the politics of watching. In “Veil, Valley, Viaduct” she describes another feminist walk across Toronto where she is stalked by a male stranger. She includes “A Guide to ‘A Feminist Guide to Reservoirs’.” “Night Walk with Sandra” describes her childhood friendships in Winnipeg. In “”My Dogs Are Barking” she walks over Brooklyn Bridge, then to San Francisco, the arrondissements of Paris, and St. Jacobs, Ontario. A flaneuse for all seasons, MacDonald treks across much territory, walking the talk, and talking the walk. She concludes that shared foot pain is a love language that includes sciatica, plantar fasciitis, and a pandemic. Her ecopoetic travelogue encompasses many figures and grounds in a straggle to the finish. She writes through looking glasses, leaves, and grass, holding ground, lines, and lives of daughters who converge in elegiac and witty ways.

Tanis MacDonald is an essayist, poet, professor and free-range literary animal. She is the host of the podcast Watershed Writers, and the author of Out of Line: Daring to Be an Artist Outside the Big City. Her essay “Mondegreen Girls” won the Open Seasons Award for Creative Nonfiction in 2021. She identifies as a bad birder and lives near Ose’kowáhne in southwestern Ontario as a grateful guest on traditional Haudenosaunee territory.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Wolsak & Wynn (June 14 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 218 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989496539
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989496534

Poetry Editor

Michael Greenstein is a retired professor of English at the Université de Sherbrooke. He is the author of Third Solitudes: Tradition and Discontinuity in Jewish-Canadian Literature and has published widely on Victorian, Canadian, and American-Jewish literature.