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rob mclennan’s blog: Resistance: An Anthology of Poetry, edited by…


ONE WAY
TO KEEP TRACK OF WHO IS TALKING

If I change one word, I change history. What
did I

say today? Do I even remember one word? Writing
is

oral tradition. You have to practive the word
on

someone before writing it down.

I do not intend to become the world’s greatest
Indian

orator. Maybe I might by accident. I might
speak my

mind even when running off my mouth like I’m
doing.

language finds a tongue. Maybe it will be an
Indian

accent.

Counting hostile Indians is made easier because
they

don’t talk much or very little. They look the
part

—the part in the middle with braids. You never
do

know if you are talking to an Indian.

Frozen Indians and frozen conversations
predominate.

We mourn the ones at Wounded Knee. Our
traditions

buried in one grave. Our frozen circles of
silence

do no honour to them. We talk to keep our

I
was curious to see this new anthology edited by Montreal poet Nyla Matuk, Resisting Canada: An Anthology of Poetry (Montreal
QC: Signal Editions/Vehicule Press, 2019), a volume of work including contributions
by Jordan Abel, Marie Annharte Baker, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Beth Cuthand, Rosanna Deerchild, Marilyn Dumont, Marvin Frances, Louise Bernice Halfe-Sky Dancer, Lee Maracle, Janet Rogers, Armand Garnet Ruffo, Gregory A. Scofield, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, James Arthur, Wayde Compton, Jim Johnstone, El Jones, Christine Leclerc, Canisia Lubrin, Sachiko Murakami, Arleen Paré, Michael Prior, Shane Rhodes, Ingrid Ruthig, Karen Solie, Moez Surani, Derek Webster and Rita Wong. For
the purposes of this book, “resistance” seems concurrently an overly general
and remarkably precise descriptor, one that acknowledges a building cultural
shift over the past decade or so, and the responses to those shifts, as well as
to some of those authors who have been already been doing this kind of work for
some time. There has been a growing frustration around cultural issues, with
subjects such as Idle No More and #MeToo cohering into flourishing movements,
something that has been increasingly reflected in Canadian writing and
publishing. Young writers such as Billy-Ray Belcourt and Jordan Abel might only
have emerged over the past decade or so, but poets such as Armand Garnet Ruffo,
Rita Wong and Marie Annharte Baker have been at the forefront of this kind of
work for a very long time, so while some of the larger attentions to such
issues and ideas might be more recent, the responses to such have existed for
decades.

As
Matuk writes as part of her introduction: “The poems in this book question the
triumphalist, nation-building narratives typical of Canada’s historiography. As
a settler-colony, Canada will only find the road to moral ground once it
attempts to understand how and why it sits atop land, cultures, significant
landmarks, and memories that do not belong to it, and faces its history of
irreversible damage to First Nations Peoples, including its genocidal intent;
once the state stops taking for granted that its self-declared presence permits
access to unceded lands or entitles it to ignore or transgress the territorial
or jurisdictional sovereignty of First Nations.” As she writes:

            But
colonialism isn’t merely a historic phenomenon we can dismiss as irreversible.
It’s an ongoing set of practices negatively affecting human beings and the
environment. The poems in this anthology believe that these practices can be
confronted. Such decolonization requires art form that re-orient a settler
society to bear witness to the standpoint of the colonized. Or at least they
may offer a gambit in that direction. The point, to borrow a phrase from
feminist political theorist bell hooks, is to move the locus of colonized
meaning and knowledge from margin to
centre
. As writer and activist M. NourbeSe Philip tells us, “the power and
threat of the artist, poet or writer lies in this ability to create new
i-mages, i-mages that speak to the essential being of the people among whom and
for whom the artist creates. If allowed free expression, these images succeed
in altering the way a society perceives itself and, eventually, its collective
consciousness.”

Writing
as a response to politics, I would argue, is a thoroughly postmodern idea:
writing that exists as part of the world (and a response to that world) as
opposed to the modernist suggestion that writing exists separate from the
world. We exist in tandem, and one can’t exist without affecting the other. Why
should writing be any different? And some of the strongest writing I’ve seen
over the past decade or more has been work that exists within the world, from
the geopolitical to the social to the flourishing of eco-poetry.

Resisting Canada: An Anthology of Poetry opens
with a land acknowledgment (something I’ve been hearing, increasingly, at
literary events the past few years, but hadn’t seen in print), and ends with a
variety of statements by a handful of the poets, providing context for them and
their works. As Vancouver poet Rita Wong’s statement (clearly composed before her jail time) writes:

In August 2018, while BC was in a state of
emergency because of wildfires, breaking records for the second year in a row, I
sang and sat in ceremony in front of Kinder Morgan’s Westridge marine terminal
for half an hour. For this, I was arrested, and face the threat of 28 days in
jail for opposing the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. My punishment—while
Kinder Morgan gets away with clearcutting trees, poisoning the land, air, and
water—shows how Canadian laws are dangerously disconnected from the laws of
physics, chemistry, and the land itself.

            Where
Canadian law is failing to protect us from increasing the likelihood of climate
disasters, thankfully we can and are learning from natural law and Indigenous
law that we have a reciprocal relationship with the land. We all have a
responsibility to care for the land’s health, which is ultimately our health
too.

            15,000
scientists have issued a warning letter that we need to make a fast transition
to renewable energy. Governments aren’t responding fast enough to the peril
that we face due to climate destabilization. On a geological scale, we are in
imminent peril now.

            I
am just one of over 200 people who have been arrested because we take climate
crisis seriously. We cannot afford to let this black snake pipeline acidify the
ocean. We stand in solidarity with the land, the water, the earth, and all the
relatives protecting our collective future.

This
does feel like an important book, furthering a conversation that has been
building for quite some time. And what should I, as a straight, male and white
writer be doing in my own work? Listening, certainly. Paying better attention
to some of these conversations that might make certain people uncomfortable
(and rightly so). Sometimes it is better not to speak, but, instead, to help
re-broadcast the thoughts and works of another, from conversations around Omar
Khadr, poverty, systematic racism, the Kinder Morgan pipeline, unceded
territories and a history of genocide against Indigenous people and
communities, colonialism, Canada’s history of slavery and the historic erasure
of Black neighbourhoods from Vancouver to Halifax, Japanese internment camps, the
list of murdered or missing Indigenous women and girls, and the trauma
surrounding the Residential Schools system. We can only move forward (whatever
that forward might look like) once these conversations and reconciliations are
properly addressed, otherwise we are trapped where we stand.

BOUNDARIES

This is dream city, built on shores

still not ceded. This is a city of tourists

with mouths agape, these are my boundaries:

the islands in the Gulf, the sea they might
call Salish,

the land taken there, taken again

from another family, that line nearly faltered.

and now a nephew with my father’s grin, the
last one.

Between the people and the land, what have I to
teach?

to tolerate suburbs? To let the land be covered

with another’s vision, then stretch our line
out farther than the

commuter trains,

stop where the valley’s silt turns hills, the
residents nearly Albertans.

The time is now, and now, and now; built so
fast with minds

less changed, from Expo to Olympics,

I’ve
heard recently (given the combination of federal election and thanksgiving
weekend) that politics is something our parents should have taught us not to
avoid, but to discuss and inquire about in a respectful, thoughtful manner, far
different than a generation or two prior, where politics at the dinner table might
have been considered taboo. One hopes that a collection such as this would be
taught in schools, both for the writing and the content, to showcase just how
much culture is shifting and has already shifted to acknowledge some of these
conversations, frustrations and attempts toward reconciliation. Given the
volume includes numerous works reprinted from full-length collections, I would
suspect that is one of the purposes here. The world is changing. Writing is
changing in response. One hopes that enough might be listening.

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