Indigena Awry by Annharte

(New Star Books, 2012, 144 pages)
reviewed by rob mclennan

         Hanging Poem

          bother on the phone hang up let go
          surveillance daddy-o tail hanging
          outside pantses leave me alone ask me
          I was a good Indian today hanging
          around whites do-gooders rich people
          hanging by own hangnail no dangle
          little pinkie yo yo pull compulsion
          strange hanging jaws make tongue
          hang gaga only hangup you gape much
          hanging tough hanging bgast around
          blow with the wind stay on washline
          winter rigid shapes merge mania
          dry out treatment withdrawal transfix

Winnipeg poet Annharte’s new poetry collection indigena awry (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2012) collects a decade’s worth of writing, since the publication of her previous collection, Exercises In Lip Pointing. The language of the book’s title feels akin to the kind of wordplay seen in Canadian expat Adeena Karasick’s poetry, a play that is but a part of the much larger series of concerns and constructions in the collection itself. Recently returned to Winnipeg from Vancouver, Annharte, AKA Marie Annharte Baker, is Anishinable (Little Saskatchewan First Nation, Manitoba), and the author of three previous trade collections of poetry—Being On the Moon (Vancouver BC: Polestar, 1990; Vancouver BC: Raincoast, 2000), Coyote Columbus Café (Winnipeg MB: Moonprint, 1994) and Exercises In Lip Pointing (Vancouver BC: New Star Books, 2003)—with a collection of essays, AKA, forthcoming in 2013 from Capilano University Editions. I am fascinated by the forthcoming collection of essays. What might they entail?

          I am building a barricade. You can help me.
          Indigenous people all across the country blocked roads
          railways dams
                                  held vigils for Kanestake/Kahnawake
          camped in parks, government buildings & on bridges

          the Indian Act shoved down our throats         no more silence

          each day cousins in crowded cell blocks listened for news
                         FREEDOM FOR FIRST NATIONS
          mothers & fathers of mothers who fathered fathers mothered
          those relatives who didn’t build a barricade in their heads

                                  disbelief in white people is healthy
          believe me

          I am seriously building a barricade (“help me I’m a poor Indian who doesn’t / have enough books”)

Annharte’s mélange of forms in indigena awry pushes against racism, misunderstandings, stereotypes and just plain ignorance presented to and about natives and native culture, explored through humour, deft play and skill, and the occasional use of brute force, when required. While playing within the realm of experimental writing, Annharte’s name isn’t often included in conversations with experimental writing in Canada, which is a serious oversight, and her use of more straightforwardly-narrative forms are anything but straightforward. In his piece “Straight Forward Approach: Annharte’s Exercises in Lip Pointing” in Antiphonies: Essays on Women’s Experimental Poetries in Canada (Toronto ON: The Gig, 2008), Vancouver poet and critic Reg Johanson writes:

          While Annharte’s language is in fact full of syntactical play and does ignore many of the regulations of the
          colonizer’s grammar, she has no privileged position to renounce; the exchange-value of her commodity-speech
          is already devalued, and she feels responsible to a larger community than the one usually addressed by
          the avant-garde.

There is a history of political poetry in Canada that is much less overt than the histories of political writing in other countries, given our lack of a civil war, for example. And yet, one can look at the histories of writing in Quebec, feminist writing from the 1960s and onward, the social politic-poetics of Vancouver writing (focusing, in part, around the Kootenay School of Writing), eco-poetries, the recent stretch of political poetry around federal politics and policies and Roy Kiyooka’s “inglish,” as well as a history of literary resistance by various indigenous writers, among others (I keep hoping someone else might write something exploring any of these, so I might better understand some of these histories). It would be easy to align Annharte’s writing with a number of other Vancouver-area poets engaging with social politics and language writing, including Stephen Collis, nikki reimer, Jeff Derksen, Maxine Gadd and Aaron Vidaver, but even that would be to oversimplify the powerful effect of the writing of indigena awry. One of the most compelling sections of the collection is the journal-entry sequence “back burner,” writing of racism, Oka, North of 60, and being “too radical,” a conversational sequence of prose poems that help hold the more experimental pieces together into a solid whole.


          SAFE POEM
          climbed a flat iron mountain in Boulder, Colorado. start of the 90s and Oka decade. a poet made us go for a walk unlike
          all the others who just did the poems about nature from the safety of home.

          mind you an execution happened that very summer on that same mountain. skinheads threw someone down. a guy died
          because he might’ve snitched but they got caught for killing him. unlikely these killers from Toronto. most likely Canadian
          violence gets more ugly in another country.

          so used to it. Oka catches on around the country. no use to leave home to protect commonwealth. save a golf course for
          wealthy. remember people afraid of the “wilderness” what First Nations people called home. Canadian nature is more
          violent whenever recreation destroys creation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles are the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012) and grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com

 

 

 

 



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