Category Archives: Poetry

Cadence: Voix Féminines, Female Voices edited by Kayla Geitzler and Elizabeth Blanchard

Cadence: voix féminines, Female Voices is a compilation of poetry from twenty-five female New Brunswick authors with diverse styles and distinct cultural backgrounds, including French, Vietnamese, German and Arabic. Editors Kayla Geitzler and Elizabeth Blanchard brilliantly produced a chapbook that evokes feelings of empathy, resilience, empowerment, liberation, and self-awareness from a female perspective.

This collection is a dactylic combination of poetry and prose that is as diverse as its authors. An articulate mixture of writing styles has just enough use of metaphors and pathetic fallacy to describe the trials and tribulations of humankind beginning from birth and ending with death. In this particular case, the issues women encounter i.e., loss of innocence, youth, virginity, child, parent, and self with underlying tones of misogyny, devastation, regret, disappointment, and grief tend to be overpowering which makes it difficult to devour this book in one seating.

“An articulate mixture of writing styles has just enough use of metaphors and pathetic fallacy to describe the trials and tribulations of humankind beginning from birth and ending with death.”

A cultural patch-work quilt of verse that is mainly translated to English allows its audience to ride the highest tides in the world, to relive youthful joyrides, be named after a cloud “Cumulus congestus or cumulonimbus/Heaped, fibrous, anvil topped.” (Steel, pp. 37), feel the drumbeats of mother earth and watch a father’s dying soul carried away by “black talons spread/ at dawn/ my father’s last whisper/ hawr hawr hawr/ his raven took flight” (Bowman, pp.100)

Readers can peer through the eyes of those struggling with loyalty to self vs family and religious, sins of the father, belittlement, and the tearing away of innocence and how the subject chooses to succumb or rise above.

Loss seems to be the most prevalent theme between the covers of this extra-large chapbook beautifully illustrated by Nancy King Schofield. “The Night Mares” suits the ghostly cover illustration perfectly, as Vanessa Moeller refers to buried “cannon bone, pastern, coffin bone” that are “lost under pine and coyotes’ throated hunger.” (pp.69). This selection leaves the reader wondering if this is a metaphorical loss of one’s self as a result of a woman broken down by society or the loss of nature and ecology on a grand scheme.

This collection would be perfect on the curriculum of an advanced art literature course but may prove intimidating to the novice reader. It is the type of collection that, read more than once, would find new meaning each time, based on the reader’s self-reflection within the pages and may cause triggers for some. The task of reviewing the works of genius from these phenomenal female authors and editors was daunting, but their cadence beat strong and loud and needs to be revibrated to more voices.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Cadence may be purchased directly from Frog Hollow Press.
  • Edition of 135 copies. 150 pages*
  • ISBN 978-1-926948-92-8
  • Published: 2020  

I Am the Big Heart: Poems by by Sarah Venart

Sarah Venart’s I Am the Big Heart, published fall 2020 by Brick Books, commands the poetics of family tensions. The first of five sections opens with “Epiphany,” in which the speaker struggles with many of the book’s major themes–motherhood, creativity, loss–all the while maintaining her caregiving duties up to the last moments of a pet dog’s life. The opening poem is not the only one to combine fast-paced narrative with elaborate introspection in a short number of lines. Venart’s imagery throughout the book blends abstraction and precision, sometimes within the same breath, to make frequently explored topics unique again.

Ecology is intertwined with poems on gender and loss, addressing animal life and farm life as interlocutors with the speaker’s own experiences. “Stun Guns,” which closes the second section of the book, is one of many poems to employ the grotesque and delicate nonhuman to striking effect:

I don’t know if the pigeon was stunned  
from hitting the patio door or from her torn-open
breast, but while my husband held her wings,
I saved her by crossing twine around her throat
and tightening until her lavender lids met,
her black keratin beak parting.

Intergenerational dialogue is also at the heart of this collection; the speaker finds complexity in her relationship with her young children, and she intersperses fragments from her mother’s journals that make up several found poems throughout the book. The speaker is primarily introspective, struggling to balance her dedication to her loved ones and her craft, but as she reflects on her role in her family she adopts their perspectives to enrich her own:

What advice is handed from mother  
to mother? When blending pastry,

use ice. Prick names into pies with a fork.
As for pain, you bear it

as it courses through your neck.

Venart’s book is on the shortlist for the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry and the Relit Award for Poetry this year. These nominations are most deserved; I Am the Big Heart excels at the daunting task of captivating the reader for 90 pages of short yet striking poems. Venart’s poems present vulnerability and viciousness, personal and universal at once. Her robust and nuanced images linger long after first encountering her poems and draw you back to repeat the experience.

I Am the Big Heart is a finalist at the 2021 Quebec Writers’ Federation Awards Gala. https://qwf.org/awards2021/


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Venart‘s poetry has been published in Numero Cinq, Concrete and River, The New Quarterly, The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, This Magazine, Prism International, and on CBC Radio. She is the author of Woodshedding (Brick Books, 2007) and Neither Apple Nor Pear. Sarah lives in Montreal and teaches writing at John Abbott College.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Brick Books (Nov. 1 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 104 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771315369
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771315364

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Zoe Shaw
Some Rights Reserved  

These are not the potatoes of my youth by Matthew Walsh

Matthew Walsh’s These are the not the potatoes of my youth was a very enjoyable read. Honestly, I do not normally have the experience of poems making me laugh out loud (I mean that aren’t Shel Silverstein), and then on the next page tearing up in grief. Often these poems can do both at once, laughing through a serious moment, as in “Individual cats” where Walsh muses, “I recommend the Superstore parking lot, deep December for coming out. Your mother will look like she is smoking, but not smoking, just doing her best bull impression.”

Walsh writes with a great understanding of the human and more specifically Maritime condition. It is hard to recall anyone capturing the perfect snapshots of the complication and oddities of what is to be a Maritimer with such perfection and clarity. Walsh catches me off guard many times, as they explore the strangeness and the realities of the people in this part of the world. I catch myself nodding in understanding and recognition, thinking back to my own peculiar grandfather, hands buried in the pumpkin patch, smoking a Dumont red. I underline many more lines, surprised and delighted at how well they have captured so many types I know. The laughing and nodding comes from the understanding, the pure joy in being related to.

Walsh also writes on the conditions of hyper-masculinity, what that means and why. “My fingernails were too long for a boy, but how should a boy be?” We dance through the complicated and anxiety-ridden issues around family, the love of our parents, Walsh’s journeys across different parts of Canada, and the histories and stories we tell ourselves.

There are some poems that read like a peek into the eerily haunting thoughts inside our heads, causing us to nod with a, oh they think this way too. Overall, this was a delightful, strange collection, which I will be pushing into friend’s hands exclaiming, you have to read this!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matthew Walsh hails from the eastern shore of Nova Scotia and has twice travelled by bus across Canada. Their poems may be found in the Malahat ReviewArcExistereMatrixCarousel, and Geist. Walsh now lives in Toronto.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Icehouse Poetry (March 12 2019)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 92 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1773100734
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1773100739

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Laurie Burns
Some Rights Reserved  

Introducing: Mercedez Tate, Indigenous Poet

Tansi, my name is Mercedez Tate* and I’m a 17-year-old Plains Cree woman from Poundmaker Cree Nation, Sask, on Treaty 6 territory.
I’ve always had a strong bond with words, especially writing and singing. I often felt unheard during my childhood so writing really helped me to find my voice and use it for others who are still finding theirs.
I focus mainly on social commentaries as well as descriptive and narrative poems, in relation to struggles and inequalities that we, as Native people, have been confronted with. The two poems you are about to read highlight intergenerational trauma, life on the reserve; as well as missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Three topics we can all relate to, even if we don’t know it yet. Thank you for reading.


Where the Wild Kids Are
By: Mercedez Tate – Asinīy Iskwew

There’s a place just down the road 
Hidden deep within the hills
A place without adults, just babies having kids
Imbued with all the maybes that this world could ever offer 
A village that vanishes in the valleys, where the wild kids wander
 
There’s a tiny tone of tension that circles over head 
That feeling of unfairness when we crawl into our beds 
A place with lacking resources, not enough luck to go around 
It’s a place that is my home, where the wild kids are found. 
 
But without those inequalities, the Rez wouldn’t be the Rez
It wouldn’t house the kids that become the greatest friends
We wouldn’t have our stories 
to share and laugh about 
The Rez is my favourite place, I could never be without 
It’s where us wild kids can be, just that
Unapologetically. 

Have you Seen My Sister?
By: Mercedez Tate – Asinīy Iskwew

You there, have you seen my sister? 
Her skin is like she’d been steeped in Red Rose tea 
Her long black hair is usually bound by braids, 
She’s about 5’4”-5’6” just a little taller than me
She looks like a painting within a painting 
Her body is abundant with artistry 
Her cheekbones sit high above the rest of her chiseled face,
You’d know her if you saw her 
 
Have you seen my sister? 
No one will help me look, 
She goes by Nitisaniskwew, and Nikawiy to her son
How do I tell my nephew we couldn’t find his mom? 
 
Excuse me officer, did you not hear what I said? 
My sister has been missing, I can’t help but think she’s —
 
One morning she was here, that night she was no longer 
If you could hear her sing, her song would now be somber 
 
Have you seen my sister? She’s a human much like you 
Her hair is not blonde and her eyes are not blue 
But her homecoming is well overdue 

*Editor’s note: The poems of Mercedez Tate were brought to my attention by her writing mentor, Rick Revelle, who is the author of the Algonquin Quest series of novels about Indigenous life in North America, pre-contact. The fourth and final installment, Algonquin Legacy, has just been released by Crossfield Publishing.

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Mercedez Tate
Some Rights Reserved  

Iskotew Iskwew Poetry of a Northern Rez Girl by Francine Merasty

Francine Merasty’s Iskotew Iskwew Poetry of a Northern Rez Girl is a journey, not just for Merasty herself but for the audience as well. I don’t say “for the reader” because that rhetorical trick presumes one reader and one response, a solo activity in the privacy of one’s own head into which the author is invited – a sort of splendid isolation.

I used to read like that. My education is tangled up in British imperial tradition with its white supremacy and patriarchy, and it’s a tradition that likes to pretend it is universal, and if it can’t be universal, then at least it’s the best. I learned, with some exceptions, that most important and lasting works are created by men, a state which of course had nothing to do with erratic, unequal access of education and everything to do with male superiority, and that despite the occasional anomaly of a Mary Shelley or a Charlotte Bronte, only men, preferably white British men, maybe the odd (anglophone) Canadian or American, can tackle Big Ideas and write Lasting Things. 

This is, of course, utter bollocks. 

In a very wattled scrotum. 

Recognizing and acknowledging this profound mistake takes nothing away from the achievements of Chaucer, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Keats – oh, fine, yes, even Dickens – but so much more exists, so many storytelling traditions, so many ways to reach one another.

Francine Merasty, a Nēhithaw (Cree) woman from Wapawikoschikanek (Pelican Narrows) in northern Saskatchewan, writes in a free verse, a form of poetry still derided by some who prefer strict metre and ignore free verse’s potential for intimacy. In Merasty’s poems, her line breaks – often exquisite – irregular metre that reflects speech, and sometimes broken rhyme at once celebrate the potentials of poetry in English, an imposed language, and show the limits of English and the terrible weights of its impositions:

Filling out my law school application 
How long has your family lived in Saskatchewan? 
I pause for a moment 
Then write 
Since time immemorial 


What would have been other options? 
Before Saskatchewan was, we were 
I got in; nobody questioned my answer 
(“Since Time Immemorial”) 

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women 
The stories are chilling 
So many killings 

The brown baby girl Tina 
Should have been a ballerina 
Media played her like she was a diva 
Another drunk who’d sooner drink tequila 
(“Chilling”)

Merasty herself has journeyed though multiple hells. As a white woman, I can only try to imagine the pain of constant racism. I can only try to imagine the cumulative pain of working as a statement-taker and Counsel for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Girls and Women inquiry in 2017. And I must try. I must, not just as a settler-descended Canadian, but as a human being, as Donne tries to in his Meditation 17. His language reflects, and limited by, his context, yet I can feel him long to reach past it: “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” Merasty’s poetry creates that empathy, reminds me I am involved in humanity, that now, in my own historical and social context as a settler descendant, I must sit and listen. Not flap my gums. Not protest that I am not racist. Just listen. 

When I listen, I hear of beauty: the land, the sky, the forest, the love of mothers and grandmothers. I also hear the beauty of defiance: 

I am more than what you see 
I live sovereign, inside I’m free 
Yes, I got some academic degrees 
But that’s not what makes me 
It’s this Nēhiyaw blood in me 

I’m Cree 
A nēhiyaw iskwe 
(“I’m a Nēhiyaw Iskwew”)

No one else gets to tell Francine Merasty who and what she is.

I said earlier the poems are a journey, for both writer and audience, and it is a meditative one, enriched by a re-reading and study of the poems. I’ve not understood half the sorrow and beauty here, I’m sure. I say “sorrow and beauty” because Merasty is, like anyone else, a complex human being living a complex life. The human condition invites apparent paradox. Sorrow and beauty can exist separately in her work and in the same moment — and is that not being involved in humankind? Or, as Herman Melville puts it in Moby-Dick: “We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibres connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibres, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” 

Merasty’s poems, igniting empathy, show us the fibres and sympathetic threads – lifelines – of reconciliation. 

Before reconciliation must come recognition and understanding, and Merasty’s work can help bring us there.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Francine Merasty is a Nehithaw Iskwew, Opawikoschikanek ochi, a reserve in Northern Saskatchewan. She is a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation and a fluent Cree speaker. She began writing poetry in the winter of 2017 while working for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls as both a Statement Taker and Legal Counsel. She currently works for the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations in Saskatchewan. She is a winner of the 2019 Indigenous Voices Awards. She lives in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Bookland Press (July 15 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 104 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1772311456
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1772311457

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Michelle Butler Hallett
Some 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  

What Does the Wind Say? by Kamal Parmar

It seems fitting to have read Kamal Parmar’s latest collection of poetry, What Does the Wind Say? as we settle very firmly into fall on the east coast. Centred around time, memory, and the change of seasons, Parmar has put together a collection that has us walk down the path of time, watch it pass and change, and be mystified by how it gets ahead of us. Parmar layers changing seasons with an anthropomorphized Time to examine the different facets of time and how we interact with them in this collection. It’s a short collection but impactful: Parmar reflects on ageing and youth; warmer seasons give way to winter. There’s a lot of repeated imagery in these poems, though it never crosses over into feeling tired. Instead, Parmar’s poems feel familiar and cozy, examining these themes through different lenses and revisiting different tropes over multiple poems.

The titular poem is a perfect example of the thoughtful way Parmar uses seasonal images to explore emotions:

It begins to snow and I am sucked in its deep silence, 

looking for answers that never come.

Parmar is alternately kind and sharp in these poems, flatly reminding us “There are no replays here,” in the poem “Pondering,” while tenderly remembering a father in “Many years have rolled by”:

Sitting in one corner of the living room, 

is a cushioned chair that no one sits on. 

It is empty. 

It will always be empty, 

because it was Dad’s chair.

This brief but comforting collection of poems is poignant in the nicest possible way, and especially so during the COVID-19 period in which time feels very strange. A touching and mindful collection of work.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nanaimo poet and writer, Kamal Parmar has been passionately involved in writing for the last 20 years. Her genre is poetry and she has a few books, both poetry and creative non-fiction,  to her credit. Her poems are simple though poised and evocative enough to set the reader thinking. She has a number of poetry publications in reputed Canadian literary journals and magazines. She is a member of several writers’ organizations and Writers Guilds and is also a manuscript evaluator in one of them. She is currently, an active Board member of the B.C Federation of Writers, and was also Secretary of The Ontario Poetry Society, while in Ontario and has also given poetry readings in various libraries, in ON, SK and in BC.

Currently, she is an Associate Member of the League of Canadian Poets, a Board member of Federation of BC Writers and a member of The Writers Union of Canada, the Canadian Authors Association as well as of Haiku Canada. She is the current Poet Laureate for the City of Nanaimo.


This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

The Junta of Happenstance by Tolu Oloruntoba

Tolu Oloruntoba’s The Junta of Happenstance is an impressive debut. It has many qualities I find admirable in a first collection: passion, a large number of poems, and a certain playfulness (of music and tone) that relays poetic confidence. Perhaps most importantly, Oloruntoba’s speaker has a developed, multifaceted sense of self. The book’s final poem reads: “Within I’m more darn than breach, / an eruption of stitches, / an avalanche of thimbles as sweat.” Divided into four parts, The Junta of Happenstance grapples with the blurring of physical, mental, and social anxieties—tackling subjects such as illness, immigration, and the dread of being placed and/or misplaced within chaotic systems. I didn’t find these sections particularly distinct—rather, they bleed into one another in an aesthetics of surplus and surprise. I came away from this book in a beautifully muddled state.

Oloruntoba is skilled at a kind of galloping descriptiveness, a frenzied precision that matches the energy and dislocation of encounter. His poems are also excessive—in scope and language—yet their excess is careful and attuned. At times, Oloruntoba’s style reminds me of Lucie BrockBroido’s lavish precision. Consider, for instance, this moment in the poem “Mantis Corps”: “their swarm / a biblical maw with a cape of dusk, / a wake of dust, a bust of molten / rain.” The horror of “biblical maw,” paired with the (mostly) single-syllabic tempo of the rest of the excerpt, makes for a striking juxtaposition of dread and candour. I love a similarly careening moment in the poem “Has Anyone Studied This?” when the poet writes: “I keep hoping for the rockslide of books, / the horology of logs in a turn of phrase / at the vertex of impact, / to boost something in me.” Each phrase in this collection comes across as an associative layer—a world of multiple, overlapping worlds. The texture of these poems is incredible.

“I first read Tolu Oloruntoba’s astonishing collection outside, in a shock of sun, as mud daubers smacked the window behind me. The poems felt like a natural extension of that landscape: ie. warmth and chaos.”

Oloruntoba is not an easy poet, but I found the difficulty of his book a relief from the accessible, conversational tone of many poets these days (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with those kinds of poets, but I’d rather have my head lopped off). Instead, Oloruntoba’s poems do away with the banality of understanding. In “Via Negativa,” the poet writes: “I suspect I have no idea what I’m doing, / and these detours may kill me, / but if I cross off every road, / my tally may pave a final one for me.” I love the idea of this book as a “tally” of detours. And the poet never seems to forget that what he knows is temporary (and yet part of some great, devastating uncertainty). In the short final section, we get a real sense of the speaker’s vulnerability: “I’ve been seed, singular, false / eye of peninsula, storm-lashed, shorn by / nutcracker teeth of a shore entry.” This kind of list is Oloruntoba’s specialty: he brings us simultaneously closer and closer towards a vision of wholeness, yet farther and farther away from safety in knowing. The phrase “the junta of happenstance” appears more than midway through the collection, in a poem called “Sieve.” In partial criticism of visa lotteries, Oloruntoba writes: “The amulet of meritocracy has failed, obviously. / This is the junta of happenstance.” While being immersed, aesthetically, in a poetics of happenstance, this book strikes me as being rather anti-“sieve”—in the sense that Oloruntoba’s poems embrace excess and convolution, and come across as an outpouring (rather than a whittling away) of possibility.

I first read Tolu Oloruntoba’s astonishing collection outside, in a shock of sun, as mud daubers smacked the window behind me. The poems felt like a natural extension of that landscape: ie. warmth and chaos. I also learned a ton of new words. For instance: guano, cotyledon, wormcast. But Oloruntoba uses language so devotionally, that words I think I know are being endlessly defamiliarized, and thus made beautiful. He writes, in “Heretic: Taken”: “an opera of grapnelled / wetsuits, an applause / of skylights / in the cymbal clash of pupils.” Meaning beyond meaning, I know, is a general poetic feat, but few poets achieve Oloruntoba’s vitality. In short, this is the best new book I’ve read in a while. I’m thrilled this poet exists: Oloruntoba’s strange mesh of language has certainly boosted something in me.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tolu Oloruntoba is the author of the Anstruther Press chapbook Manubrium. His poetry has appeared in Pleiades, Columbia Journal, Entropy, and other publications, and his short fiction has appeared in translation in Dansk PEN Magazine. He founded Klorofyl, a magazine of literary and graphic art, and practiced medicine before his current work managing projects for health authorities in British Columbia. After a somewhat itinerant life in Nigeria and the United States, he emigrated to the Greater Vancouver Area, where he lives with his family.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Anstruther (May 1 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 80 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1989287727
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1989287729

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

The Essential Elizabeth Brewster as selected by Ingrid Ruthig

“Despite accolades, Elizabeth Brewster has remained at a distance,” Ingrid Ruthig writes in the introduction, explaining why she was compelled to put together this collection of Brewster’s poetry. This slim volume is short compared to the extensive bibliography of Brewster’s work included at the end, but it’s extremely effective: if I’ve ever known Elizabeth Brewster, the memory has been lost, but I do know her now – and I’m definitely interested.

Brewster, born in New Brunswick, “felt keenly the obstacles of her gender and poor, provincial background; she was excluded from male-only reading rooms, as well as from scholarships and support systems,” at the beginning of her career as a writer and scholar. Her career path, as described by Ruthig, was characterized by a long period of precarious employment before finally obtaining a position in Saskatoon – a career path that would not be out of place today. It was after she settled in Saskatoon that Brewster spent more time on her writing. However, over a span of fifty years, Brewster created an immense body of work, and Ruthig compiled a selection of poems spanning all of Brewster’s career, with a select few poems from each of Brewster’s eras in this collection.

One of the things that struck me the most while reading The Essential Elizabeth Brewster was the varied subjects and syntax, and even very different tones, but with a strong, consistent, narrative voice. The poems both felt at home within the “traditional” canon Brewster was left out of – certainly, her work is strong enough to fit in – and also fresh and modern. Brewster covers all topics, from the landscapes and nature which tend to dominate Canadian poetry, to complaining about the ephemerality of most writing, except those deemed classics, in the poem “Tired of Books”:

I don’t want to write 
literature 
the stuff students are examined on

Brewster does this frequently throughout her work: poking fun at the things one is supposed to want, and embracing those that are more suited to who she feels she is. In “When I’m Old,” Brewster cheekily states: “I shall let my hair go grey, / and I’ll eat as many meringues as I want,” before moving to the more contemplative, “And at long last I shall write / the great poem I have not yet written.”

I’m glad to have learned more about Elizabeth Brewster and her work through this collection chosen by Ruthig. Her poetry is lovely, and by shining this light on her with this volume, hopefully, Brewster will at least posthumously be given the attention and study she deserves.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Brewster (1922–2012) was part of a second wave of modernist poets who helped influence the national conversation about Canadian poetry. Born in Chipman, New Brunswick, Brewster was the frail fifth child in a family unsettled by poverty. While her early school attendance was irregular, nothing stopped her from reading, writing, and later, seeking higher education, first at the University of New Brunswick, where she helped to establish the vaunted literary journal The Fiddlehead, and then at a number of institutions including Harvard’s Radcliffe College; King’s College, London; and Indiana University. She settled in Saskatoon, and taught literature and creative writing at the University of Saskatchewan from 1972 until she retired in 1990. Brewster died in December of 2012 in Saskatoon, at the age of 90. (Image courtesy of University of Saskatchewan, University Archives and Special Collections, Photograph Collection, A-11138.)


Ingrid Ruthig, writer, poet, visual artist, and former architect, is the author of This Being (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2016), winner of the League of Canadian Poets 2017 Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Her work has appeared most recently in Resisting Canada (Véhicule Press, 2019) and Am, Be: The Poetry of Wayne Clifford (Frog Hollow Press, 2018). A 2018 Hawthornden Fellow, she is the editor of several books, including David Helwig: Essays on His Works (Guernica Editions, 2018) and The Essential Anne Wilkinson (The Porcupine’s Quill, 2014). She lives near Toronto with her family.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Porcupine’s Quill; 1st edition (May 15 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 64 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0889848785
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0889848788
This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

Satched: Poems by Megan Gail Coles

Satched: The state of being soaked through to the skin or caught in a heavy downpour. (from the back cover)

A couple of years ago, I read the absolutely delightful novel, Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles and fell madly in love with her prose. When I saw she had a collection of poetry coming out this fall, I just had to read it. And while Small Game Hunting smacked me in the face with its extreme east coast feeling, Satched packs an even harder punch.

“This is the kind of work about our region that I identify most with: lovingly critical, demanding more of the place we call home while acknowledging the hold it has on us.”

Coles takes the trials and tribulations of living on the east coast of Canada and spins them into beautiful, reflective poems on a life in a chronically depressed economy, reliant on long-dead industries. This is the kind of work about our region that I identify most with: lovingly critical, demanding more of the place we call home while acknowledging the hold it has on us. Coles rages, jokes, and reminisces about a life in Newfoundland, originally home by birth but now home by choice.

For those who don’t connect as strongly with the east coast vibes of this collection, the work’s other themes are just as engaging. Wonderfully feminist screeds like “Lay Your Whispers on Some Other Pillow,” will resonate with many women, opening with a blunt takedown:

Please, yes 
do mansplain it to me, 
the answer I’ve searched 
my whole life to find just 
happens to be in your pants

Coles wryly examines being a woman in your thirties in this collection, the impossible pressures that society places on women, as well as the way we treat women of different ages. In “Run Bitch Run,” Coles writes:

Five minutes ago 
you were too young 
and now you are too old 
the middle place where 
you are just right 
does not exist.

As a woman of a similar age, this is a real mood. Coles tells of her adventures in home renovation and being taken advantage of by repairmen, of childhood memories, of the abusive relationship workers are locked in with the companies which come to Atlantic Canada to exploit industries and then abandon the region with environmental destruction in their wake, and the very similar, later relationships workers have with the oilfields in Alberta. She critiques the settler relationship with the land and the way climate change has made itself very apparent in our lifetimes. This is a passionate collection of poems, and I appreciated how Coles’ poems could make me laugh, cry, and nod in deep understanding, all in the same stanza.

Satched is an excellent poetry debut, full of excellent works, and at 130 pages, on the longer side for a poetry collection. I promise it is well worth your time to open the cover and step inside a proudly rooted on the east coast book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Megan Gail Coles is a graduate of Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the University of British Columbia. She is the Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Poverty Cove Theatre Company, for which she has written numerous award-winning plays. Her debut short fiction collection, Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome, won the BMO Winterset Award, the ReLit Award, and the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award, and it earned her the Writers’ Trust of Canada 5×5 Prize. Her debut novel, Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club, was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and a contender for CBC Canada Reads, and it won the BMO Winterset Award. Originally from Savage Cove on the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland/ Ktaqmkuk, Megan lives in St. John’s, where she is the Executive Director of Riddle Fence and a Ph.D. candidate at Concordia University.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ House of Anansi Press (Sept. 7 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 112 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1487008945
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1487008949
This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Alison Manley
Some Rights Reserved  

Smithereens by Terence Young

Smithereens is Terence Young’s 3rd book of poetry and 6th book. It feels polished but not pat. It is not wrestling against itself or bogging down in complex language and structures. It is comfortable in its poetic skin of stories. There’s something like Richard Harrison, Bruce Taylor, John Lent, and Michael Dennis to how these poems are common days unfolding in an orderly way.

His previous collections won many accolades. Smithereens, like these, aim for the lyrical in the everyday. There’s a gentle tender prodding of what’s around.

Anecdotes are voiced in couplets and lines, even in lengths as cordwood. There’s a certain low-key equanimity mixed with melancholy. For example, in “Mixed Blessing”, p. 11

For a while we called it the good fire,
the best fire, the fire that saved us

because we were insured, and the insurance 
paid for all the things we could never afford,

It relates a list of missing objects. It adds a razor-cut ending of what couldn’t be replaced, a turn to the smallest pathos,

“our youngest’s kindergarten rendering of 
a tugboat—blue hull, aquamarine ocean, blowing 

billows of smoke into a cloudless and benign sky.”

Even a child knows the world intends no harm. The quotidian and concrete opened to the profound. We try not to take the world’s injury personally.

It ends with a gesture opening out to the universe, considering our small place in it. The ending is a send-off, as it is in most of his poems. Not an elaborately tied bow but a definite crisscrossed ribbon.

“My Mother’s Cigarette Case” is three pages associating memories, how the case is a synecdoche for her and for his childhood. Years after her death the memento gains instead of loses significance. p. 12

I want it even now,
years after I have given up
the habit,
if only for the sound it made
when she snapped it shut.

The lyric gaze is kindly, even to the bear in the garbage. The poet rendered himself philosophical and safe. One can be sympathetic to a bear who by luck of geography and past encounters, has a clear run at food and not at you.

the garbage can’s rectangular lid and four neat punctures, 
arranged in a fan, an arc, like a winning hand of poker, jokers wild.

One gets the feeling the relating to bear is a humble recognition of another place and time it all wouldn’t be so smooth, an acknowledging the other, who isn’t the bear, but the path other people have to live. It is not fully a chance operation of who gets to profit but at the same time, misfortune is as easy as a step left or right in traffic.

p. 66 “Fern Island Candle” is a meditation on the Big Themes of Death and Lost Youth through the vintage wick of a scented candle.  There’s a tribute for Gary who “Praised the mycelial mat/and the healing powers of tea tree oil.”

Once you get to a certain age as a writer, your principal occupation is at risk of becoming an obituary writer. You risk bringing a certain nostalgia to any topic. “On Aging”, p. 74 reflects on how many doors that have closed by talking about its opposite “pencil marks ascending/the door jamb, the numerical advance/ of grades, height, years, their growing /importance and prestige, life for them/ a series of doors opening”. Judging from the poems I was surprised he wasn’t a much older man than he is.

There are good stories and rich with details. I can’t say I learned any insight or new way of seeing. Which is not to say he does not surprise himself as he writes. There is a new awareness dawning, self-aware in light of insects in the kitchen, dutifully put outside, out of humanly claimed territory. “The Things They’ve Ruined” (p. 80-81) starts as a list (he likes lists) of what bugs have gotten into and the grandiose generosity of response of not killing them but taking them outside which “ own pastoral yearnings” say is good.

a pair of them slide down the drain mat 
into the sink, climb back up and do it again.

There’s the sense of feeling invaded, having what is rightfully yours taken. It’s a recognition of human sense of property. And human, or perhaps male-specific, sense of goodness and validity being protecting the weak. It is knowing nothing you could profit by is lost by this involuntary sharing and yet feeling usurped as an authority. Duped to think there is an ideal world that they live in, apart from the world you live in. A sense of perhaps admiration of the ants who can outwit and outmaneuver and despite you, survive you. The ending then loops back to the title. What is it they have ruined? The pie or the sense of other and superior?

This reconciling with colonial ideas of conquer is wrestled again in “On First Viewing the Extent of the Beaver Invasion” where beavers are recast from pest rodent to “e voracious vegetarians, monogamous good parents” who also have colonial aspirations. Maybe that’s not bad he concedes. Maybe we all change our world given any chance. There’s a lot of self-comforting and reassurance in the next as a buffer against all the strife.

There are also light comic poems, such as navigating one’s ambivalence about parties. “The Party” p. 92.

Do we go to parties, they asked themselves. 
Do we like parties, they asked themselves.

Now they were getting somewhere.

Now there’s a poem for the Covid era. Except that they went and drifted home. Event as non-event.

The poems are a good comfortable middle-class white read. It is well-written, well-considered and not heart-wrenching. (Who needs everything to be heart-wrenching.) He speaks from where he is and aims to reach to whoever will listen about this fleeting human condition of life and loss.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Terence Young recently retired from teaching English and creative writing at St. Michaels University School. He is a co-founder and former editor of The Claremont Review, an international literary journal for young writers. His first collection of poetry, The Island in Winter (Véhicule Press, 1999), was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Gerald Lampert Award. Since then, he has published several books: a collection of stories, Rhymes With Useless, which was one of two runners-up for the annual Danuta Gleed award; a novel, After Goodlake’s, which received the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize in 2005; and a second collection of poetry, Moving Day, which was nominated for both the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize in 2006. In 2008, he was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence. More recently he received a National Magazine Award for his poem “The Bear,” and was the 2019 winner of the Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse Contest. Young lives in Victoria, BC.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Harbour Publishing (March 27 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 114 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1550179438
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550179439
This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Pearl Pirie
Some Rights Reserved  

A Journey to Peace and Connection in Fragile Times: Revisiting Rob Taylor’s The News

Canadian writer Rob Taylor is one of my poetry heroes and it doesn’t hurt that he’s an amazing human being. As we stay isolated for the tail end of the pandemic and prepare to tackle climate change with everything in us, Taylor’s body of work, particularly The News, is a source of solace. In this elegant collection, Taylor finds meaning in chaotic and challenging times through a committed practice of compassionate connection “along an invisible tether” to his future child. The News, published by Gaspereau Press in September 2016, is an inviting, lyrical read. It was a finalist for the 2017 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, an annual award for outstanding British Columbian poetry, and went on to a second printing in 2017. 

Preparing for the announcement of the big news to family and friends at Christmas dinner, the moment when Taylor and his wife would reveal that she was pregnant with their first child, Taylor wrote and polished thirty-six poems for the book, interspersing deep personal thoughts with current events and dreamsEven while dealing with serious matters, Taylor humanizes them, makes them manageable, acknowledges fear, loss and heartache outside of his control, while reminding us of the wonder of each day, the growth of a family, a marriage, a fetus into a baby, a man into a father, a helpful message at this time of pandemic isolation and forest fires, to live simply and nurture what is within reach.  

Taylor composes in chronological order, creating and polishing one poem a week, a blend of internal and external spheres. The News begins when his wife is five weeks pregnant, dreaming with wisdom and depth of the moment their joyful announcement is shared, “…you and the idea of what you’ll be/ and listen as your mother breathes/ for three,” he writes, gently confessing emotional insight, his wife sustaining him as well as their child. Each poem is named for the week number of the pregnancy until Taylor closes the collection with the visual image of the child’s feet deep in the uterine wall of his wife’s skin at forty weeks, a rare use of enjambment picking up the pace to capture the intensity of waiting for the impending birth in the last few days and hours, “Whenever your mother/ presses the bulge of your feet,/ you press back. A reflex/ and a game. A conversation./ You talk us through long days.”  

Within the clearly defined structure of one poem a week, there are subtle nuances, internal patterns and bookends. Many of Taylor’s poems invoke permission to play in other people’s rhythms, as he weaves lines from famous writers including Albert Camus and Basho, along with contemporary poets, into his pieces. Then there are the bookends of his father’s spirit and death. The second poem, “Six Weeks,” gives a sense of the father’s love, support, and presence in the narrator’s life with lines such as, “…the moon through the sunroof/ of your Grandfather’s Mazda/…singing into dreams/ (what else can I call you?).” We know that his father has given him a car, but don’t know until much later that he died. In “Thirty-six Weeks,” the narrator dreams he was at his father’s funeral and burial in the first stanza, then explains upon waking in the second, that his father had passed twenty years earlier, if we do the math as readers, in the narrator’s childhood. “We bury people/ many times…/ and if we are lucky/ and if we love them enough/ they come back a bit…/ Death the moon and my father/ its satellite,” he says of the gift of being with of his beloved father in dreams.” In the third stanza, Taylor ties profound thoughts together into the theme of becoming a father, of reaching and carrying, thinking of his future grown son aching to remember him, “within these words/ the man I was though he/ will be beyond your reach,” always returning to the impending arrival of his child. 

“Taylor’s humanistic approach through the verse of The News is an inspiration for writers in these times to find an uplifting blend of news and authenticity, of inner and outer worlds, to embody memories of loved ones, prepare for new life, be a parent, a partner, a whole human in relation to others, first family, then chosen community.”

Meanwhile, headlines contextualize the outer world. As we read about and remember traumatic events of the war “In Fallujah in ’04” and a racist shooting in a Charleston church with the narrator, we are located in twenty-first-century Vancouver, grieving but somewhat removed from much of the actual suffering of the world, hoping our pristine landscape and life in the west coast mountains remains unscathed, while at the same time feeling apprehensive that the flaws of humanity and civilization that lead to war and mass shootings may touch us too, wanting to protect our children from what eludes our comprehension, the construction of societies in prejudiced, narrow-minded, militaristic manners that implodes into collateral casualties. “In Canada/ we kill our women one by one/ and by the time we notice/ the anchorman is on to sports,” Taylor notes. Though we have gun control, we are not immune to the indifference that allows for violence, especially targeting impoverished sex trade workers with the many disappearances and murders on the Downtown East Side of Vancouver. The blend of personal and international content in Taylor’s work locates the specific nine months in time in which it was written, a chronicle of the collective consciousness surrounding the arrival of his firstborn. 

Taylor’s humanistic approach through the verse of The News is an inspiration for writers in these times to find an uplifting blend of news and authenticity, of inner and outer worlds, to embody memories of loved ones, prepare for new life, be a parent, a partner, a whole human in relation to others, first family, then chosen community. Though he dreams with death and loss, allowing it to travel with him, Taylor lives in a very present way in his teaching, performances, hosting and interactions in the Canadian literary community. If you’ve ever shared a stage with Rob Taylor, as I got to do in a poetic pairing at Word Vancouver in 2018, you know he’s all about lifting people up, generously bringing positive, present energy to every moment as graciously as he carves out poems. Though the outside world is tumultuous with murder, destruction and suffering we grieve for, Taylor’s poetry and personal presence are a reminder that kindness and compassion remain, that we have the ability to maintain the sanctity of our most important ties, living in balance with all the news we can’t control while investing in the need to nurture today with wholeness from our deep inner dreams through our closest relationships and outward to everyone we engage with. In these fragile times, Taylor’s work gives hope of personal growth even in a vociferous landscape. At a time when the world feels on edge, Taylor’s The News can send our beings into zen. 

Copies of The News can be purchased from Gaspereau Press here.

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James FisherSome Rights Reserved  

Undoing Hours by Selina Boan

What power does language hold? What power do we hold over language? Selina Boan’s Undoing Hours foregrounds play with linguistics and poetics to explore liminalities of identity and family in the context of a half-Cree, half-white settler speaker. Her speaker’s deep connections with the world around her resonate with the reader by means of powerful turns of phrase and sensory landscapes. 

As many biracial readers will recognize, growing up in the culture of only half of your family can leave the exploration of the rest of your history a tempting and troublesome hurdle. Language is one of the foremost difficulties in this journey, which Boan makes clear through her learning of nêhiyawêwin and the family relations that accompany this choice. Boan asks the unanswerable questions of the privileges and opportunities of learning new languages, further complicated by the questions of what parts of your history you are entitled to. The first word in nêhiyawêwin we learn in the book is mahtakoskacikew, “s/he settles or lays / on top of everything” (11), and the closing poem features the speaker recentering her bodily and emotional agency despite the violence at the heart of her family history. The speaker’s journey takes us from a place of uncertainty over engaging with the complexities of her mixed ancestry to the conclusion that we can set our own boundaries and challenges when deciding the spaces that we engage with.

“Undoing Hours is wonderfully paced; Boan experiments with a variety of forms and themes to keep the flow exciting while still holding a strong grasp on the narrative that the speaker tells.”

Boan’s thirty poems ask questions related to the complexities and legacies of multilingualism in the context of Indigenous histories, specifically that of the nêhiyawêwin language. Cree vocabulary and cultural references structure the poems and the speaker’s journey through alienation from her split history. Nêhiyawêwin is interspersed among English, neither translated in footnotes nor italicized, instead incorporated as two languages that the speaker can engage with separately and at once.  

Undoing Hours is wonderfully paced; Boan experiments with a variety of forms and themes to keep the flow exciting while still holding a strong grasp on the narrative that the speaker tells. Longer poems stand out from the shorter by encompassing all of the major themes of the book in sequences. “in six, the seasons” pinpoints the precise struggle of learning a language to which our relationship is taut through the framework of temporality and indigenizing Western time:

learning the seasons into six

a girl listens to her father’s first language alone (19)

From early unease with her decision to learn nêhiyawêwin to the concluding poems where her learning permits her to know herself and her family anew (“i learn in nêhiyawêwin / how to move verbs” (83)), Boan’s Undoing Hours is a breathtaking exploration of the various ways in which our histories can hurt and heal us.

Selina Boan is a white settler-nehiyaw writer living on the traditional, unceded territories of thexʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), səl̓ilwətaɁɬ (Tsleil-waututh), and sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) peoples. Her debut poetry collection, Undoing Hours, is forthcoming with Nightwood Editions in Spring 2021. Her work has been published widely, including The Best Canadian Poetry 2018 and 2020. She has received several honours, including the 2017 National Magazine Award for Poetry, and was a finalist for the 2020 CBC poetry award. She is currently a poetry editor for Rahila’s Ghost Press and is a member of The Growing Room Collective.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Nightwood Editions (April 24 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 96 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0889713960
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0889713963

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Zoe Shaw
Some Rights Reserved  

Phantompains by Therese Estacion

Phantompains by Therese Estacion carries readers through the narrator’s healing process after surviving a rare bacterial infection, but not without losing both legs below the knees, several fingers, and her uterus. The poems are mostly autobiographical, and delve into both physical and “non-physical” phantompains (51-55). This collection is about trauma, healthcare, loss, culture, bodily autonomy, and much more. This collection blew me away.  

While much of the book is autobiographical, most of it is not written in the first person. Estacion separates the narrative from herself in a few ways: the opening untitled poem introduces us to a “once upon a time” fairy tale about another woman (10); then the first section of the book is told through Filipino folklore and horror tales; and the final portion of the book is comprised of a series of “EF” poems, which tell of some other “Eunuched Female.” Only about a third of the collection is written in the first person. In my own work, I will write in second or third person when the piece is tackling a trauma. It’s a tactic I use to separate myself from my own experiences so that I can write about them without panicking or becoming depressed. I imagine Estacion does the same thing here. The pieces that write from a separate perspective also communicate how drastic this specific trauma is: so much of her former self is lost in surgery that she becomes other than what she’s always known. 

The first portion of the collection uses Filipino myth and folklore, monsters, to grasp this feeling of complete otherness post-trauma. The monsters however also represent home, history, autonomy, language, and culture. All of these mythical poems are written partly in Visayan. The first monster readers are introduced to is Agta. Estacion says at the end of this first poem: 

“I died in August/ I swear I saw something like an agta    At the foot of my/ hospital bed     a form with no eyes/ / He said to all the devils that came/ / Ayaw Pag Ari Do not come here/ / Ayaw Pag Hilabot Do not touch” (17), and in the final pages: “ a guard lights a cigar at the/ edge of my bed     /he crosses his legs/ / filling in the edges  / agta? / so, I decide to/ finally rest with him by my side/” (87).  

These cultural stories, monsters if you will, play an important role in healing for our narrator. While a part of her died, her history and culture— the “was”— remains and protects her. Tells the demons: “Do not come here, Do not touch.” 

The story of Aswang particularly struck me because of the near absolute bodily autonomy the creature Aswang possesses:  

“She/ laughs and pretends she is interested in your cock [. . .] Dismembers. Hides her/ legs by the garbage.     Grows fangs and wings” and later, “When you leave, that’s when she gets you [. . .] Then/ she puts herself back together again, FULL” (23). 

While the Aswang becomes hideous, much like our narrator feels, the Aswang holds immense power to seduce and kill, to voluntarily dismember her body and put it back together. It is further notable that Aswang hides her limbs by the garbage as another motif in this collection is that of being or becoming garbage. Estacion continues to return to this image, right from the beginning untitled poem: “my body   belonging to my body for years/ go into— / / trash in a trash can” (13).  

Estacion thanks the doctors and nurses who saved her life in the acknowledgments and says that she wrote these poems from a place of mourning. It is, however, possible to be grateful and also critical, and I think Estacion showcases the infantilization and shame imposed on amputees and the hospitalized well. Mean nurse tells other nurses that EF is “a lot of work” (80), and thereby shames the completely vulnerable Eunuched Female for a condition she did not choose and has no control over. The day her reproductive organs are removed it is an emergency procedure and she finds out from her sister after-the-fact. The end of the fifth section in “Pee” is addressed to her partner: “You remember everything    this is your part to tell/        to feel/ / I wish I could take this part away from you” (41). Estacion is suddenly placed in the childlike position of being at the whims of those around her and everyone knows more about her than she does. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially those working in or wanting to work in healthcare— a field where empathy is so often lost.  

What I have written barely grazes the surface of what’s in this collection. I am so glad this book exists. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Therese Estacion is part of the Visayan diaspora community. She spent her childhood between Cebu and Gihulngan, two distinct islands found in the archipelago named by its colonizers as the Philippines, before she moved to Canada with her family when she was ten years old. She is an elementary school teacher and is currently studying to be a psychotherapist. Therese is also a bilateral below knee and partial hands amputee, and identifies as a disabled person/person with a disability. Therese lives in Toronto. Her poems have been published in CV2 and PANK Magazine, and shortlisted for the Marina Nemat Award. Phantompains is her first book.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Book*hug Press (March 31 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 112 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771666862
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771666862

*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/37l3J4v Thanks! 

This article has been Digiproved © 2021 James Fisher
Acknowledgements: Emma Rhodes
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