Author Archives: Rachel Fernandes

About Rachel Fernandes

Rachel Fernandes was raised in Ottawa, where she completed her Honours BA and MA in English at the University of Ottawa. She is now based in Kingston, where she is a PhD Candidate studying contemporary North American literature. Her research focuses on mixed race identity in various genres, including memoir, poetry, and the novel. Over the last decade, she has published a smattering of poems through small presses such as In/Words, Joypuke, Coven, and Feathertale, and served on the editorial boards of The Ottawa Arts Review and The Lamp Literary Journal. She loves reading even more than she loves writing, and is excited to share and discuss new Canadian work through The Miramichi Reader.

Beyond the Gallery: An Anthology of Visual Encounters, edited by Liuba Gonzàles de Armas and Ana Ruiz Aguirre

In the essay, “The Invisible Museum”, Laury Leite reminds us that “the world is a strange and unknown place, and that knowledge is nothing more than the search for the marvellous hidden in nature.” (117) Beyond the Gallery invites readers to think about the hidden marvels all around us—the artwork within and outside of the art gallery.

Beyond the Gallery’s subtitle is “An Anthology of Visual Encounters” and it delivers on its promise to provide a vast array of perspectives on art beyond the walls of the art gallery, even in a relatively brief collection of eight essays. The essays in this book will appeal to lovers of art and especially lovers of many different time periods of art history. In Beyond the Gallery, editors Liuba Gonzàles de Armas and Ana Ruiz Aguirre curate an interesting and eclectic group of essays written in Spanish and English by Canadian authors from the Spanish-speaking diaspora. The theme that binds the pieces together is not simply art, but the ways in which we might think about art outside of the typical gallery space, which usually seeks to dictate the way a viewer takes in the piece. They ask, what happens when art breaks free from the traditional gallery space? What kinds of unconventional art forms do we experience in the world? The eight essays in this collection offer a variety of perspectives on topics like classical art, political posters of revolution-era Cuba, and even the boom of artistic expression in tattooing in recent years.

“As I was contemplating the essays in this book, I thought of my own experiences of art outside the gallery.”

Each piece is written in its author’s signature style (credit here goes to the translators of each essay), and many essays embrace not only an academic approach but play with perspective as well. One notable essay that does this is “El Telón de Picasso/Picasso’s Curtain: A Visual Encounter”, by Marcelo Donato. Donato begins by describing his first, impactful visual encounter of the curtain Picasso painted for a ballet in 1917. The essay then shifts into a creative-nonfictional retelling of the players and circumstances that influenced the creation of Picasso’s curtain. It ends with a section in which the curtain itself speaks. The switching of perspectives is a recurring theme in the entire collection of essays, which demands an open mind as the perspectives and styles shift from piece to piece, perhaps the way that a multi-artist exhibit might ask the viewer to approach different and unconventional pieces with an open mind.   

As I was contemplating the essays in this book, I thought of my own experiences of art outside the gallery. This collection calls to mind the “Nuit Blanche” art festivals I have attended when artists take over the streets and other non-traditional spaces of a major city as new and exciting venues for their creations. There is something very energizing about seeing art deliberately taking over a space outside of the gallery. It becomes more accessible and interactive, and the authors of these essays seem to agree that great art can reside in many spaces. The spirit of Nuit Blanche is alive in this collection and it encourages readers to look to the classics, but also to the unexpected for inspiration.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ana Ruiz Aguirre is a Cuban-Canadian writer and researcher who writes about art through an interdisciplinary and contextual lens. Ana contributed to and co-edited Beyond the Gallery with the support of the Edmonton Heritage Council and the Alberta Public Interest Research Group, and she is currently working on her first monograph with the support of the Edmonton Arts Council. Ana’s doctoral research examining the strategy and impact of cultural diplomacy in North America was awarded a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and she was a Mitacs Globalink Research Scholar at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Ana was part of the Public Diplomacy and the Economy of Culture Research Group at Queen’s University, and has worked at Fondo Cubano de Bienes Culturales, and the Art Gallery of Alberta. She currently serves as Chair of the Fundraising and Advocacy Committee at Latitude 53, one of Canada’s oldest artist-run centres.

Liuba González de Armas is a diasporic Cuban cultural worker. She is both contributor and co-editor to Beyond the Gallery. Liuba holds a Bachelor of Arts in History of Art, Design, and Visual Culture from the University of Alberta and a Master’s degree in Art History from McGill University. Her MA research examined representations of women in Cuban revolutionary posters and was supported by a Canada Graduate Scholarship. Her areas of interest include activist printmaking, public art and propaganda, and cultural policy and diplomacy. Liuba has interned and worked at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Museum of American History, the Art Gallery of Alberta, and various artist-run centres across Canada. Most recently, she served as Halifax’s Young Curator at the art galleries of Mount Saint Vincent, Dalhousie, and Saint Mary’s universities before joining the civil service in Nova Scotia. Liuba approaches visual art of the Americas hemispherically, seeking to foreground spaces of transnational dialogue and solidarity.


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Gold Pours by Aurore Gatwenzi

Aurore Gatwenzi’s first collection, Gold Pours, is a stunning book of poetry. The language is accessible, the images mesmerizing, and the tone is always warm and introspective. The collection is divided into sections with epigraphs from scripture; the poems included in each section are grouped based on their relationship to the biblical quotation. At first, I wondered at how difficult it might be to weave the secular into meditations about God and the spiritual world, but Aurore Gatwenzi does this with skill, and it seems utterly natural to her poetry. She strikes a balance between the spiritual and her lived experience, which gives the impression of an easy, everyday relationship with spirituality, which I found inspiring and refreshing.

 The poems in Gold Pours range in style from many short free-verse poems, to dialogues between two voices, to longer prose poems. A memorable feature of Gatwenzi’s poetry is the way she bolds her titles at the end of each poem. I began reading without quite knowing where each poem was going, but when I reached the end, the bolded title stood out like a life lesson or a key phrase that helped cement the poem’s message in my mind. In her poems, Gatwenzi tackles a range of big concepts: freedom, truth, childhood, love, heartbreak, joy, and inner strength. I was especially moved by her poems about relationships; she writes about heartbreak in relatable terms without ever veering into the maudlin. The poem “i can’t wait to never speak to you again”, for example, uses simple evocative language to convey the complicated emotions that churn during a breakup:

my thoughts keep jogging

restless

you
 
wrestle with my mind (95)

Gatwenzi’s rhythm and her playfulness with sound point to her background as a spoken word artist, and I imagine that these poems would be fascinating to hear performed in person at a live reading.

In the book’s “Notes” section, Gatwenzi expands on the title of the collection. She writes, “The book is called Gold Pours because of the feeling of being in the dark gone through hell and having been broken so many times but filling the cracks with gold is beautiful”. This brings to mind the Japanese pottery practice of Kintsugi, in which broken pottery is repaired with gold joinery. As a philosophy, Kintsugi treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than flaws. Gatwenzi continues, “gold goes through a process…melting and refining is building character to fill my cracks…cracks are the unrestrained feelings pouring out into poetry”. (139) Gold Pours is an exercise in revealing these cracks and breakages and exploring how they contribute to a complete person.

I loved reading this collection; it left me with an increased appreciation for the experiences in my own life that shape who I am in the present. Gold really does pour from this collection—it flows, it emanates.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aurore Gatwenzi describes herself as a social butterfly on the cusp of millennialism and zoomers. She holds a degree in Modern Languages and spent two years in Spain teaching English as a Second Language. She is a frequent participant in the Sudbury Poetry Slam scene and is included in the anthology Fem Grit: A Collection of Northern Voices (2020). She is a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Sudbury. She currently lives in Sudbury.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Latitude 46 (Oct. 16 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 142 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 198898937X
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1988989372

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Rachel Fernandes
Some Rights Reserved  

UnSpoken Truth by Angela Bowden

The truth will not stay buried. This is what I hope we’ve all learned throughout this summer of uncovering violent, racist truths in Canada. We cannot have reconciliation without truth, and we cannot move forward without reconciliation. Truth means acknowledging the ugliness of our past and present. It means understanding the systems put in place to oppress and dehumanize racialized groups of people. How can we change if we don’t acknowledge what happened—what continues to happen—because of these systems? Angela Bowden’s poetry collection UnSpoken Truth addresses all of these concerns. Her poems demonstrate the importance of truth, remembrance, and resistance with a particular focus on uncovering the truths about the Black experience in Atlantic Canada. 

“The poems in UnSpoken Truth are often raw in tone and content and engage directly with Black issues in Canada.”

Bowden uses rhythm expertly in her poetry—I could sense her roots as a spoken-word artist in the rhythm of poems like “Responsibility Resist” and “A Home From a Shack”, which demand to be read aloud to truly experience the rolling sense of the rhyme. Other poems like “Scented Seasons” draw the reader into a three-dimensional world, asking us to use our senses of smell and touch to experience the vibrancy of the poem. I love poetry that takes me off the page by inciting the use of all my senses and I enjoyed letting Bowden’s language draw me in.  

The poems in UnSpoken Truth are often raw in tone and content and engage directly with Black issues in Canada (and in Atlantic Canada, more specifically). Although the truths of racism are imperative to understand and acknowledge, these truths can weigh heavy; as Bowden expresses in the poem “Sigh”, “I am exhausted from picking up the pieces of your hate” (60). 

A strong sense of community runs through all of the poems in the collection. Bowden not only explores her own experiences as a Black Nova Scotian today, but she also reaches back through the years, capturing the traumatic experiences of her parents and grandparents, and connecting these histories to the larger history of African enslavement in Canada—a truth that many contemporary Canadians don’t even realize (and many would rather ignore). Bowden’s poetry is always connected to the past, showing how history informs the present, how it shapes who we are, and how the knowing truth of the past can help us step into ourselves more fully.   

Bowden’s strong voice and clear sense of purpose in this collection make it accessible and vital: all the poems are tied together by a need for a complete understanding of Black history in Atlantic Canada and an understanding of resilience and resistance as a way forward. In UnSpoken Truth, Bowden shows she is not only an eloquent poet but a capable teacher and dedicated activist who serves her community by uncovering hidden truths and remembering important histories that must not be lost to time.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

TEDx speaker, writer, and activist, Angela Bowden is a descendent of the stolen Africans sold through the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Angela’s roots were preserved through the Black Loyalists arriving in Birchtown, migrating to Guysborough County, and later moving to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, where she was born and raised.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Pottersfield Press (April 6 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 160 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989725392
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989725399

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop independent! However, shopping at a bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/3fADYBu Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Rachel Fernandes
Some Rights Reserved  

Chiru Sakura-Falling Cherry Blossoms: A Mother & Daughter’s Journey through Racism, Internment and Oppression by Grace Eiko Thompson

I gravitated towards Grace Eiko Thompson’s book because I needed to learn more about Japanese Canadian experiences. I don’t recall more than a brief mention of Asian Canadian in my early education, aside from a few lines in a textbook about Asian workers arriving in Canada to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. The photographs of the CPR’s “Last Spike” in 1885 are carefully posed: although some men in the photos appear to be railroad workers, they are all white. The Japanese and other non-white labourers are literally out of the picture. Similarly, Japanese internment and forced displacement during the 1940s was also glossed over in my education. I had to seek out this information as an adult by reading books like Joy Kogawa’s Obasan. Chiru Sakura fits nicely alongside Kogawa and other West Coast Asian Canadian authors like Paul Yee and SKY Lee, who offer important perspectives on their experiences, both past and present.

Thompson writes about her own experience of Japanese internment: her family was uprooted by the government, forced to leave most of their possessions and their home in Vancouver, and scrape together a living in barely inhabitable accommodations. They were forbidden from returning to their home after WWII, and no choice but to relocate to predominantly white small towns in rural Manitoba. Thompson was a child at this time, and in Chiru Sakura, she alternates between writing her own memories and transcribing her mother’s journal, which her mother wrote as she approached the end of her life. The book also features some truly incredible family photographs from Thompson’s personal collection.

“Thompson writes about her own experience of Japanese internment: her family was uprooted by the government, forced to leave most of their possessions and their home in Vancouver, and scrape together a living in barely inhabitable accommodations.”

The book is a chronological account of Thompson’s life, but it also reaches further into the past, detailing Canada’s long history of white supremacy, with particular attention to the nation’s turbulent relationship with immigrants from Asia (and also Canadian citizens with Asian heritage). The book is rich with facts that are heavily supported by Thompson’s personal experience and memories.

Thompson’s writing is similar to her mother’s tone in the journal excerpts: both women seem matter-of-fact and practical, and sometimes brush past some of the more emotional details of their lives. While Thompson remembers the hostility of Middlechurch, Manitoba (where her family was relocated after internment), she carefully alludes to racism, saying, “…most [people], I assume, received their information though the media—radio and newspapers that never reported about us kindly in those days” (76). As a reader, I sometimes longed for some more rumination on these events, or a little more insight into Thompson’s emotions as a young girl. The final handful of chapters reads like a summary of Thompson’s adult life, in which she pursues her education and builds a career as an artist, curator, and advocate for education and the preservation of Japanese Canadian history.

In writing a book that weaves together her mother’s story and her own, Thompson honours her mother’s life and reflects on her own experience, acknowledging her mortality and place in a still-growing family history. Ultimately, her book is a labour of love and an important resource for the archive of Japanese Canadian history, as Thompson continues to contribute to important projects highlighting the history and also new work by Japanese Canadians.


Grace Eiko Thomson is a second-generation Japanese Canadian, who, with her parents and siblings, lived in Paueru Gai (Powell Street, Downtown Eastside) in Vancouver until 1942 when they were sent to the internment site of Minto Mines, BC, then in 1945 to rural Manitoba. After restrictions were lifted, they re-settled in the City of Winnipeg (1950). She was President of the National Association of Japanese Canadians in 2008 and served on the National Executive Board from 2005 to 2010. She is a mother to two sons and grandmother to five grandchildren and currently participates in various Downtown Eastside activities and issues in Vancouver, BC.

  • Publisher : Caitlin Press (March 19 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 240 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1773860410
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1773860411

*The Miramichi Reader encourages you to shop independent! However, shopping at a physical bookstore is not always possible, so we are supplying an Amazon.ca link. Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/3vZSJ7h Thanks! 


Fuse by Hollay Ghadery

In the second chapter of Fuse, Hollay Ghadery’s therapist tells her that multiracial people are more prone to anxiety disorders because of their fragmented sense of self. I read this chapter and my jaw dropped. My own experience as a young, multiracial woman was certainly confusing, especially because I didn’t have access to many stories that reflected my experience, and I didn’t know if such stories even existed. I didn’t really see a lot of mixed-race representation in the books I read, growing up. And even though the genre of mixed-race writing is growing, I’m still hungry for literature about multiracial experiences; so, I jumped at the chance to read Fuse. In this book, I found validation and solidarity in my own experience. I wish I had read it ten years ago.

“One of the most striking aspects of the book is Ghadery’s raw honesty, especially about her anger.”

Fuse can be loosely defined as a memoir; in its chapters, Ghadery delves into her experiences of growing up in a biracial, bicultural family (with white European and Iranian heritage) with high expectations of their only daughter. She describes her ongoing management of mental health issues and addiction, and the way her relationship with these struggles changed and evolved when she became a mother. Amid these meditations are memories of her Iranian aunts visiting for a summer, the clothes her mother made for her as a child, and her bid for freedom when she went away to university. The book’s non-linear structure is reflective of its themes: memory exists alongside our present selves, and progress is rarely linear. Fuse is carefully written, full of emotion, and deep personal reflection.

One of the most striking aspects of the book is Ghadery’s raw honesty, especially about her anger. In the first chapter, she recalls a trip to the movies to see Wonder Woman with her young daughter. Ghadery is disappointed and frustrated at the flimsiness of the character: “Superheroes are supposed to celebrate the triumphs of the underdog—the mis- and under-represented—and this Wonder Woman only does this in part. She’s a woman, yes, but there’s no real representation with this casting choice. We need to be seeing other bodies. Hearing other voices” (11). These strong emotions are as refreshing to see in the book as they are validating: Ghadery not only offers a commentary about the media’s preference for tiny, light-skinned women but also reminds us that her own angry reaction to the casting is valid and subversive. Women are not supposed to be angry. They are supposed to move on from trauma, push their personal issues aside, accommodate men (whether family members or strangers). These themes are taken up repeatedly in the book, especially when Ghadery describes her complex relationship with her father and the eating disorders she lives with. Her frankness cuts through the book, making her a relatable and accessible narrator.

Creative non-fiction is my favourite genre; I love a book that offers a new perspective and a dive inside the author’s memories. I loved Fuse. Ghadery’s writing is raw and beautiful; the tiny details she includes in each story bring you closer to her, and she bravely allows you in. She offers a unique and much-needed perspective on multiraciality and her experience of a bi-cultural life, as well as mental health and addiction, motherhood, and personal growth. I highly recommend it.


Hollay Ghadery is a writer living in small-town Ontario. Her fiction, non-fiction and poetry have been published in various literary journals, including The Malahat Review, Room, Grain and The Fiddlehead. In 2004, she graduated from Queen’s University with her BAH in English Literature, and in 2007, she graduated from the University of Guelph with her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. She is the recipient of the Constance Rooke Scholarship in Creative Writing, as well as Ontario Arts Council grants for her poetry and non-fiction. Hollay is the force behind River Street Writing—a collective of freelance writers who create exceptional content and provide creative consultancy services for personal and professional projects. Learn more about them at www.riverstreetwriting.com.

  • Publisher : Guernica Editions (May 1 2021)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 150 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1771835923
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1771835923

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/2Rhr8Pz Thanks! 


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Beyond the Food Court Edited by Luciana Erregue-Sacchi

Luciana Erregue-Sacchi, the editor of Beyond the Food Court, describes this collection of creative non-fiction essays about food as a feast. She is spot-on: each essay is an exquisitely crafted dish; the ingredients of family, culture, nostalgia, and history all in perfect balance. This book will make you hungry. It will also make you think.

In this collection, Sacchi curates a series of creative non-fiction pieces from writers currently living in Alberta who have connections with various countries around the globe. Some are recent immigrants, and some arrived in this country as children. Some remember their immigrant parents or grandparents, and some have Indigenous heritage in Canada. The result is a series of stories that are both familiar and fresh. Whether you’ve never tried a ripe Alphonso mango, or you constantly long for Injera made with proper teff, or you’re forever chasing the flavour of your grandmother’s cabbage rolls, these authors will remind you that food is an incredibly multifaceted, critical part of our lives. Food is political. It is personal, and it is powerful in cementing core memories we carry forever. It is geographical, tied to specific lands and peoples. It can be an expression of love from those closest to us.

“One of the strengths of this collection is its variety of styles and focuses.”

One of the strengths of this collection is its variety of styles and focuses. Asma Sayed puts the reader in her shoes in 1998, when she immigrated to Edmonton from Gujurat, India and struggled to find the ingredients that would help make her feel at home in this new, cold country. In his essay, Yasser Abdellatif gives a detailed historical and geographical account of Egyptian cuisine, reminding the reader that to talk about food, is also to talk about geography, “about location and climate, wind and rain, rivers and seas, crops and fruits, cattle and livestock” (32). Shimelis Gebremichael’s essay highlights his longing for Ethiopian cuisine, featuring descriptions of kaleidoscopic foods and prismatic vegetables that are enough to make your mouth water.

Mila Bongco-Philipzig’s essay is frankly astounding. She writes about the connection between Tim Horton’s and its direct role in recruiting Filipino workers for tenuous contracts as part of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. This essay is perspective-shifting. At the very least, “Disposable Double Double Lives” will transform the way you think about your morning coffee.

While its essays consider the personal and political history of food, Beyond the Food Court is very much a book of our time. Each author is keenly aware of the COVID19 pandemic; this peculiar time that both encourages many people to reconnect with their kitchens, and makes it so difficult to be close to others with whom we might share food and culture.

Sitting down with this book is truly like pulling up a chair at an international banquet. I truly enjoyed being at the table.  

Beyond the Food Court is available exclusively from www.laberintopress.com 


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Fool by Jessie Jones

The Fool is Jessie Jones’s first collection of luminous poems. When reading The Fool, I was struck with the same feelings I get when I read the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud; images bloom in each line, like dreams, making me want to reread each poem just to experience them a while longer. Jones is a skilled poet: her stanzas are measured on the page and she often plays with vowels and assonance, urging the reader to deepen their experience by reading the poems aloud. You may be tempted, as I was, to rush through the poems because of their neat appearance, but I found myself reading each poem slowly over again to fully appreciate Jones’s images.

A #ReadAtlantic Book!

The details in each poem are striking. The speaker in these poems is often contemplative about themselves and the details of their surroundings. The speaker notices the lines in their own face in the mirror (“My old face”), and also remember the freckled chest of a gambler on an unlucky trip to Vegas (“House advantage”). I loved the speaker’s attention to the details we may overlook as we speed through life.

The speaker often speaks in the third person, but is especially arresting when they address the reader directly, as in the poem “Self-improvement”, in which they seem to speak to all of us, right now, as we try in vain to reinvent ourselves while at home in isolation. The speaker lists the many skills “you” have piled on over the past months:

You nix the bread, complicate
equations. Pace treadmills
like they’re hot coals so the calories

burn. Your teeth ache
from the bleached white
centre you draw out of them. (71)

“The details in each poem are striking.”

rachel fernandes

By the end of the poem, the speaker reminds us that try as we might, we have not transformed ourselves in isolation—we are still ourselves in quarantine, and not better versions of ourselves. We continue to hide under layers of skills and things—distractions. But the speaker is sympathetic, they seem to understand that we are always trying to begin again. The collection itself contributes to this idea of continuous striving without arriving. “The Fool” is divided into sections beginning with “0” and moving through “I”, “II”, and “III” before finishing on a final section also called “0”. The structure suggests a cycle that will begin again, even after it sinks into nothing.

I recommend adding The Fool to your reading list while staying at home this winter. It is the perfect opportunity to slow down and engage with Jones’s stunning images and enjoy a bright new voice in poetry.


Jessie Jones grew up on the Prairies, spent a decade on Vancouver Island, and now calls Montreal home. Her work has been shortlisted for the Malahat Review’s Open Season Poetry Award, Arc’s Poem of the Year contest, and PRISM International’s Poetry Contest.

  • Publisher : icehouse poetry (Sept. 8 2020)
  • Paperback : 96 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1773101757
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1773101750

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link:  https://amzn.to/3d9H1jH Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

it was never going to be okay by jaye simpson

When reading jaye simpson’s debut poetry collection, the word “visceral” comes to mind.

In the final poem, “about the ones i want to love”, the speaker imagines bear cubs eating their buried heart:

i wonder if they feasted on my heart?

            you see, i wouldn’t mind that

                        i had gotten used to sharp teeth on my heart

                                    before i cut her out of my chest

                                                i even had to break a few bones to do it.

but if a cub ate my heart to grow up strong,

                                                            then i am at peace with that. (101-102)

This section provides just a taste of the bodily imagery that abounds in the rest of the collection: feeling not at home in one’s body, what it means to have one’s body colonized by another, the malleability of gender. simpson also explores themes of violence and abuse, nature and resistance. The structure of every poem is extremely engaging: simpson asks the reader to pause and think through the relationship between words, using space to emphasize certain images. Each carefully crafted piece demands a second reading, and I found myself eagerly rereading many poems immediately after finishing the book.

“I found myself eagerly rereading many poems immediately after finishing the book.”

rachel fernandes

simpson is an Oji-Cree Saulteaux Indigiqueer writer and activist, and they bring their life experience to the poetry in this collection. Much of simpson’s poetry is dark. The poems about sex work were especially challenging to read: simpson’s speaker discusses physical/sexual trauma quite vividly. As a reader, I was angry at the men in these poems who so eagerly use trans, two-spirit, and non-binary bodies for their own pleasure, soothing their own internalized anger, loneliness, and frustration. These sections are heartbreaking, but I couldn’t look away.

Among the darkness, there are classical images (Persephone, Orpheus, figures who journey to the underworld) and also deep connections to nature (strawberries and rhubarb, water). simpson explores intergenerational trauma in poems like “this woman//nookum” (41-43), as well as healing through cultural connection in “w a t e r w a y s” (90-94). I wouldn’t call simpson’s perspective negative in this collection; rather, they are realistic about the interconnectedness of dark and light in life, and the speaker in their poems describes finding hope in their chosen family, their kin, and their Indigenous community. it was never going to be okay is challenging and gripping, and I look forward to reading more from simpson, who is clearly a shining emerging poet.


jaye simpson is a Two-Spirit Oji-Cree person of the Buffalo Clan with roots in Sapotaweyak and Skownan Cree Nation who often writes about being queer in the child welfare system, as well as being queer and Indigenous. simpson’s work has been performed at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word (2017) in Peterborough, and in Guelph with the Vancouver Slam Poetry 2018 Team. simpson has recently been named the Vancouver Champion for the Women of the World Poetry Slam and their work has been featured in Poetry Is DeadThis Magazine, PRISM international, SAD Mag, GUTS Magazine and Room. simpson resides on the unceded and ancestral territories of the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), səlilwəta’Ɂɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) First Nations peoples, currently and colonially known as Vancouver, BC.

  • Publisher : Nightwood Editions (Oct. 6 2020)
  • Paperback : 112 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 0889713820
  • ISBN-13 : 978-0889713826

*Please note if you choose to purchase this book (or Kindle version) through Amazon using the link below we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link:  https://amzn.to/2O0WwQz Thanks!

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Warrior Life: Indigenous Resistance and Resurgence by Pam Palmater

In the introduction to Warrior Life, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair explains that in Anishnaabemowin, the word for warrior, ogichidaa, means a person “who dedicates their entire life to building, sustaining and protecting community” (ix). Pamela Palmater embodies this practice in her life, and also in this book.

Warrior Life is a collection of Palmater’s essays previously published in journals and blogs, including Indigenous Nationhood, Lawyer’s Daily, and Maclean’s. For this reason, some of the information is repeated from piece to piece, as Palmater lays the groundwork for each article. When reading the book cover-to-cover, this repetition helps reiterate the most important issues faced by Indigenous folks across the country. The book is divided into five sections focusing on politics, racism, sexualized genocide, “Canada as an Outlaw”, and resistance over reconciliation. Every piece in this collection is infused with Palmater’s considerable expertise as a lawyer, activist, professor, Chair of Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, and as a Mi’kmaw woman.

“Every piece in this collection is infused with Palmater’s considerable expertise as a lawyer, activist, professor, Chair of Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, and as a Mi’kmaw woman.”

Palmater is very clear in her writing: she is not interested in empty promises for reconciliation from the Canadian government. Instead, the path forward is about resistance—resisting colonialism, racism, and Indigenous erasure wherever present. She is particularly tired of lip service; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls show us, “It is no longer up for debate. Canada is guilty of genocide… [this finding] is based firmly on the evidence and the law” (147). Palmater argues that there is no use mincing words; the only path towards Indigenous sovereignty is to acknowledge the continued government-enforced harm done to Indigenous Peoples and their communities and start listening to and providing what these communities need.

A #ReadAtlantic Book!

For me, the most searing pieces in the book were about the ongoing crisis of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. My heart aches whenever I read about the racism involved in the disregard for these women’s lives. I am disgusted and frightened by the perpetrators of this violence, and enraged by the institutionalized racism Indigenous people encounter so frequently, especially at the hands of the RCMP, local police departments, and even in hospitals, where they can be denied the same care and empathy given to non-Indigenous patients, as we’ve seen recently in news stories from across the country. Warrior Life forces readers to take a close look at the suffering caused by a settler society that was founded on the abuse of Indigenous People and highlights the ongoing struggle against anti-Indigenous racism that is shamefully either not acknowledged or swept under the rug.

Rather than feeling defeated when reading about these injustices, Palmater asks that we channel this discomfort into action: we need to listen to Indigenous peoples. The last chapters of the book focus on the future of Indigenous activism and have a hopeful tone for the future. Warrior Life is clearly an excellent resource for anyone studying Indigenous governance and Indigenous issues, but I think its audience is wider than that. Any settler living on this land has a responsibility to learn about Indigenous history and current Indigenous issues. Pamela Palmater offers a laser-focused perspective in this book.

(This review was previously published at Atlantic Books Today. It is reprinted here by arrangement.)


About the author: Pamela Palmater is a Mi’kmaw lawyer, professor and Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. She is the author of Indigenous Nationhood and Beyond Blood.

  • ISBN: 9781773632902
  • October 2020
  • 272 Pages

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Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty: Affirmations for the Real World by Hana Shafi

I can’t say enough about Hana Shafi’s latest book, Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty. It is a treasure of a book; the balm for a tumultuous year.

The subtitle of the book is Affirmations for the Real World, but in the introduction, Shafi assures us that this is no book of advice. Rather, she offers affirmations and reflections as a means of reminding us that we are not alone, even when we feel unloved, awkward, or unable to sleep because we’re busy remembering every embarrassing thing we did when we were 11 years old. Her message is that we are connected: sometimes hopeless and sometimes hopeful. And sometimes our lives feel like a giant mess. And that’s ok too.

The book is filled with colourful images from Shafi’s Instagram page @frizzkidart, where she posts affirmations and illustrations. When I read Shafi’s first poetry collection, It Begins with the Body, I loved the black and white renderings of her art, which were a bit more abstract, occasionally verging on grotesque. I was thrilled to see more of her artwork in this collection and to see her images in colour. The subjects of her vibrant illustrations range from a raccoon eating potato chips, to bouquets of flowers sprouting in place of a woman’s hands, to lovingly rendered portraits inspired by Shafi’s friends. These portraits are especially compelling; Shafi features subjects of various races and from across the gender spectrum, and also highlights differently-abled bodies. I was moved by this array of representation which made the book even more accessible.

“I want to gift this book to all of my friends, and I think you will too.”

The written reflections are just as precious as each illustration— each piece of writing is filled with honesty, poignancy, and often humour. I couldn’t help but think that Shafi has her readers’ best interests at heart, even if she isn’t trying to give us advice. In fact, I felt like I was reading a note from a friend. In one chapter, Shafi describes her transformation from scaredy-cat-at-the-sleepover into a person who actually enjoys watching horror movies. She shows us that she has grown and healed as a person, and reminds us that we can too. I found myself laughing at another reflection in which Shafi describes herself not as an ugly duckling or a swan, but a “small, kind of dirty opossum with weird laser eyes that hisses at the odd passerby” (101). Here, she insists that no matter how awkward, or ungainly we might feel, we deserve to love ourselves and be loved by others. This reflection is paired with a brightly coloured rendering of a squealing opossum wearing a crown of marigolds, under the affirmation “I am so proud of myself” (103). Whacky? Yes. But also, brilliant.

I want to gift this book to all of my friends, and I think you will too. But first, sneak a read-through for yourself. Brew some tea—or pour some wine if that’s more your speed— and settle in.


About the author: Hana Shafi (AKA Frizz Kid) is a writer and artist. Her visual art and writing frequently explores themes such as feminism, body politics, racism, and pop culture. Her first book, It Begins with the Body, was listed by CBC as one of the Best Poetry Books of 2018. A graduate of Ryerson University’s Journalism Program, she has published articles in The Walrus, Hazlitt, THIS Magazine, and Torontoist, and has been featured on Buzzfeed, CBC, and in Flare, Shameless and The New York Times. Known on Instagram for her weekly affirmation series, Shafi is the recipient of the 2017 Women Who Inspire Award, from the Canadian Council for Muslim Women. Born in Dubai, Shafi’s family immigrated to Mississauga, Ontario, in 1996. She lives and works in Toronto.

  • Paperback: 180 pages
  • ISBN-13: 978-1771666091
  • Publisher: Book*hug Press (Sept. 22 2020)

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Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present by Robyn Maynard

Policing Black Lives is the work of Montreal-based Black feminist activist and educator, Robyn Maynard. Maynard brings her considerable expertise to this book, which is packed with information about the history and continued oppression of Black people in Canada. Policing Black Lives offers a frank and exceptionally well-researched perspective on the true nature of Canada’s relationship with its Black citizens which began with the forced migration and enslavement of Black people, and continues to this day with systemic oppression in many Canadian institutions.

The first chapters of the book take readers through the history of state violence enacted against Black folks in Canada, beginning with Canada’s history of slavery, and moving through segregation in Canada’s Jim Crow era. Maynard highlights anti-Black government policies, but also the ways in which the state remained complicit or turned a blind eye to racist behaviour throughout the country.

The subsequent chapters cover topics like the persistent disproportionate surveillance, arrests, and incarceration of Black people in Canada. Maynard highlights the stories of several Black women who endured state violence, reminding us of an intersection between misogyny and anti-Black racism. She also points to racial issues in the child welfare system, the education system, and within the immigration system. Maynard notes the intersections between anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism at many points in the book, which may help readers draw connections between what they know about Indigenous issues and Black issues in Canada. However, Maynard reminds us that these two racial groups have specific histories and struggles.

“I found Policing Black Lives a challenging read, not because I was shocked by the historical (and ongoing) mistreatment of Black people in Canada, but because I found myself frequently disgusted by all that we, as a country, deny about the Black experience here at home.”

Rachel Fernandes

I found Policing Black Lives a challenging read, not because I was shocked by the historical (and ongoing) mistreatment of Black people in Canada, but because I found myself frequently disgusted by all that we, as a country, deny about the Black experience here at home. We are proud of our multicultural nation and our politicians often boast about diversity as a Canadian strength. We may see ourselves as morally superior to the United States, believing that we don’t have problems with racism or white supremacy. However, Maynard reminds us: “Both white supremacy and the outer appearance of racial tolerance were integral to the nation-building process and the creation of Canadian national identity” (32-33). She writes about Canada’s racial segregation for many years post-slavery: “Segregation in the post-abolition period cut across all aspects of society. Public education, immigration, employment and housing were all subject to a veiled Jim Crow-style segregation that either formally or informally kept Black persons in social, economic and political subjugation” (33). I was surprised to learn that the last segregated school in Canada closed in 1983, but perhaps I should have known better, having learned about the persistence of residential schools in Canada, the last of which closed in 1996. This is only one example of the history of white supremacy in Canada, and Maynard details many more throughout the book.

Policing Black Lives is an excellent primer on the history of Black oppression in Canada, and would be a fantastic resource for students of Critical Race Theory, but the writing is accessible and compelling enough to be a great read for anyone interested in history and social justice.


About the author: Robyn Maynard is a Black feminist writer, grassroots community organizer and intellectual based in Montreal. Her work has appeared in the Toronto Star, the Montreal Gazette, World Policy Journal and Canadian Women Studies Journal.

  • Paperback : 244 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1552669793
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1552669792
  • Publisher: Fernwood Publishing; 1st edition (Sept. 16, 2017)

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Afraid of the Dark by Guyleigh Johnson

Afraid of the Dark is Darmouth author Guyleigh Johnson’s second book. Johnson is a spoken word artist, writer, and community organizer and she pours her multiple talents into this work of short fiction and poetry.

The book is framed by prose sections written from the perspective of Kahlua Thomas, a 16-year-old black teenager from Halifax who lives in poverty with a mother that struggles with alcoholism. Kahlua dreams of escape—escape from poverty, abuse, discrimination, and even the colour of her own skin. When her high school history class proves to be too boring and whitewashed to bear, Kahlua uses the time to research and write poetry about black history and black experiences, focussing on incidents in her own life like her father’s absence, as well as black activism more broadly. Kahlua’s poetry is infused with pain and is presented alongside several more prose sections that feature searing descriptions of trauma in her own life, including a violent falling out with her mother, her experiences of sexual abuse, and the loss of a friend to gun violence.

“Reading Johnson’s poems today reignited the fire I have for social justice and reminded me that these violent events will undoubtedly mark this time in history.”

Kahlua is immediately a lovable and sympathetic character: she is clearly smart but devalued by nearly everyone around her. She describes her insecurities: “In the back of my mind I know the essence of being black is beautiful, but why I’m afraid to express that I don’t know”. She often waxes philosophical in the prose sections of the book, as when she ponders her life, saying, “I felt like a punching bag and life kept throwing me jabs, uppercuts, and straight shots”. I found myself hoping that her writing would help her learn to punch back, so to speak. 

Although Afraid of the Dark tackles many upsetting—yet extremely vital—topics, Johnson navigates these issues with passion and precision. Her poetry is particularly evocative; the rhymes crackle with life and urgency as in “Remember What They Promised Me”:

“Brisk breeze
Falling to my knees
Stuck
Getting up
Running freely
Can you see me?”

I found it particularly moving to read Johnson’s book now, in the summer of 2020, as support for the Black Lives Matter Movement surges stronger than ever. Her poetry, in particular, haunts me. I happened to read Johnson’s poem “Philando Castile” on the anniversary of his death and I was struck once again by the horrors of anti-black police violence and the urgent need for change. Reading Johnson’s poems today reignited the fire I have for social justice and reminded me that these violent events will undoubtedly mark this time in history.

Afraid of the Dark is especially powerful because it tells the story of one black teen in Eastern Canada in particular, but also extends its reach to include a discussion of the black experience in North American more broadly. Johnson reminds us that we are not exempt from racism north of the US border, and that we can do more to address both the large and small; systemic issues of racism and smaller aggressions in our daily lives. I hope all kinds of people read her book because we need to be reminded.


This is Guyleigh’s second book, following the release of Expect the Unexpected. Guyleigh Johnson is a 25-year-old spoken word artist/creative writer from North End Dartmouth. A community advocate, Johnson encourages youth to see their true potential and to step out of their comfort zone. In print, on YouTube, Facebook, and her personal webpage she’s starting the conversation for change.

  • Publisher : Pottersfield Press (Dec 10 2018)
  • Language : English
  • Paperback : 128 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1988286522
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1988286525

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This article has been Digiproved © 2020 James FisherSome Rights Reserved