Carrying the Burden of Peace

Carrying the Burden of Peaceby Sam McKegneyPublished by University of Regina PressReviewed by Madonna Hamel$34.95 ISBN 9780889777934 From the first sentence of his book, Carrying the Burden of Peace, author Sam McKegney poses questions big enough for all of us to embrace, questions asking for new ways to scrutinize our world: “Can a critical examination of Indigenous masculinities be an honour song?” he asks. Can it “celebrate rather pathologize”? How do we hold institutions accountable and yet still “validate and affirm” the people who need validating and affirming? How do we entertain change without “fixing new terms of engagement”? His most pressing question: “Can an examination of Indigenous masculinities be an embodied enterprise?” Makes me think: If it can’t we are all doomed, because nowhere in the wider culture have I found a people more effective at embodiment – through humour, creativity, eros, and spirit – than Indigenous communities. The title of McKegney’s book comes from the Kanien’keha:ka word for “warrior”, which when translated, reads: “those who carry the burden of peace.” (This gives me pause, once again, to consider what we lose and have lost, intentionally and unintentionally, in translation.) McKegney quotes activist and artist Ellen Gabriel, who says:…

Synaptic

Synapticby Alison CalderPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Elena Bentley$19.95 ISBN 9780889778610 “[L]et me reverse your gaze, turn / the microscope upon the viewer.” It’s clear from the beginning of Alison Calder’s incredible third book of poetry, Synaptic, we are being asked “to think about the way we perceive and the ways in which we seek to know ourselves and others.” To find answers, Calder starts by exploring the field of neuroscience. “Connectomics,” the book’s first section, concerns itself primarily with the neuroscientific ways humans attempt to know themselves, or more importantly, the lengths to which humans will go to know themselves. Footnotes accompany each poem in this section, and the language is quite simple. Both the footnotes and straightforward diction allow the poems to be easily understood, despite the subject matter’s complexity. Aware of the large role animals play in our curiosity to glean self-awareness, Calder has written poems inspired by, among other things, the gene splicing of fireflies and mice, the genome sequencing of roundworms, and the discovering of algal protein for the use of optogenetics; however, she notes the curiosity is not reciprocal. An owl, for example, “knows itself / […] It sees you and doesn’t…

Shifting Baseline Syndrome

Shifting Baseline Syndromeby Aaron KreuterPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Elena Bentley$19.95 ISBN 9780889778542 Can anyone alive remember a time without TV? Not many people can. Soon enough, no one will remember a time without it. TVs and screens of every size will become part of our collective memory—things that have always just been—and we’ll forget how things were. The “name […] for this forgetting” is “Shifting Baseline Syndrome,” which is also the title of Aaron Kreuter’s second book of poetry. In this collection, Kreuter, with a unique blend of directness and sardonic wit, shows us how “[t]elevision is just another name for the Anthropocene.” Although we’re seeing a growing trend of climate change and doomsday poetry, Shifting Baseline Syndrome stands out because of its ingenious use of the television/life metaphor and Kreuter’s unabashed approach. These poems don’t hesitate to comment on the ridiculousness of our obsession with and over-consumption of television, the internet, and cell phones. For example, in the poem “Meanwhile,” we watch “Homer and Marge argue about the nuclear codes they / accidentally won in the town raffle; […] [m]eanwhile, the balsam fir colonizes another warming valley.” Put in a language us TV-obsessed readers can understand,…

Unravelling, The

The Unravelling: Incest and the Destruction of a FamilyPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Toby A. Welch$21.95 ISBN 9780889778436 As the title suggests, this fantastic read is about how a family deals with the emotional, physical, and sexual abuse across generations . But this book isn’t just about abuse and retribution. It also delves into the dynamics of a marriage, the struggles of parenthood, and the delicate balance of friendships, among many other topics. It even touches on faith and the church. It is a fascinating story that pulls you in right from the get-go.  So we don’t need a Spoiler Alert label at the top of this review, I won’t go into the details about how the decades of abuse and the subsequent quest for justice went. But I will say that I’d wager that Besel had no idea how extreme the highs and lows would be that she encountered along her journey. It was a wild ride! As the chapters flew by, I was triggered by how many people wanted Besel to drop her quest for justice just because the person who abused her was in a questionable state. Should someone not be penalized for their actions…

Pitchblende
University of Regina Press / 8 December 2021

Pitchblendeby Elise Marcella GodfreyPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95 ISBN 9-780889-778405 I didn’t know what pitchblende was before I read Elise Marcella Godfrey’s same-named poetry collection, but I certainly do now. To shortcut, merriam-webster.com describes pitchblende as “a brown to black mineral that consists of massive uraninite, has a distinctive luster, contains radium, and is the chief ore-mineral source of uranium”. It’s a measure of the poet how Godfrey takes this radioactive by-product of uranium ore—and the capitalist/colonialist/mostly male culture surrounding its extraction and usage—and transforms it into a finely-tuned collection of political, environmental, and investigative poetry. Godfrey writes from “the traditional and unceded land of the QayQayt First Nation” on Vancouver Island, and this well-researched, multi-voiced collection exhibits a deep caring for the earth and its peoples. Her cry is clear: “the neocolonial machine … promotes profit and industry at the expense of community and sustainability.” Pitchblende does not read like a first book. Godfrey’s a graduate of the Master of Fine Arts in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan and her work’s appeared in journals and anthologies: she’s put in the literary leg work, and it shows. These poems are saturated with internal and…

Organist, The (Softcover)
University of Regina Press / 25 November 2021

The Organist: Fugues, Fatherhood, and a Fragile Mindby Mark AbleyPublished by University of Regina PressReviewed by Madonna Hamel$24.95 ISBN 9780889775817 There is nothing Mark Abley can’t write about. Whether its about smalltown Saskatchewan, threatened languages, imagined conversations with dead historical figures or ruminations on the English idiom, Abley is indeed able. As poet and editor and columnist he inspires confidence in writers and readers alike, so that every new release is billed as “long-awaited.” Books take as long as they take, you cannot rush a writer. And in the case of this newest book, a nonfiction reminiscence on his life with his father, Abley could not have written it a moment too soon. There is never a moment in The Organist when the reader does not feel the immense pressure and tension in the writer to be fair, honest and fearless in his depiction of his father. His mother reminds Abley that his father had “an artistic temperament,” as if that somehow justified his occasional tantrums and extreme behaviours, such as locking himself in the bathroom before an international flight. Or wishing aloud to a dinner party of relative strangers that someone assassinate Margaret Thatcher. “Harry Abley”, writes Abley about…

Cry Wolf
University of Regina Press / 17 November 2021

Cry Wolf: Inquest into the True Nature of a Predatorby Harold JohnsonReviewed by Madonna HamelPublished by University of Regina Press$16.95 ISBN 9780889777385 As with every topic Harold Johnson tackles, Cry Wolf is a book aimed at getting to the truth of the matter, because “the truth matters.” Johnson was the lawyer asked by the Carnegies, parents of Kenton Carnegie, a young geologist killed in a wolf attack in Northern Saskatchewan, to re-examine the coroner’s report. Johnson’s own disquieting encounters with wolves as a Saskatchewan trapline owner made him their perfect choice. Johnson is nothing if not thorough in his investigation. The book opens with a warning that “the writing depicts a violent death by wolf attack and discretion is advised”. At the same time, he makes it clear that “after twenty years of practice reviewing too many autopsy and crime scene photographs” his tolerance for the gruesome has not increased, but in fact diminished. “A sensitivity seems to have built up over the years.” Today he tells young lawyers “Don’t look at the pictures if you don’t have to.” If our species is going to survive, we will need accurate information about the environment, writes Johnson. We can’t be swayed…

Bread & Water
University of Regina Press / 9 November 2021

Bread and Waterby dee Hobsbawn-SmithPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$26.95 ISBN 9780889778115 I know dee Hobsbawn-Smith as a multi-genre writer, chef, yogi, runner, mother, and yes, as a friend. She and husband Dave Margoshes hosted me for a reading at their ancestral rural home (“The Dogpatch”) near Saskatoon years ago, and when dee was touring a poetry collection on Vancouver Island, I welcomed her at my place. “I’ll cook for you,” she said, “using whatever you have in the house.” I’m was embarrassed by my uninspired inventory, yet she whipped a brilliant meal together with my mundane larder. One doesn’t forget that. So yes, I know this dexterous writer, and expected a great read in her essay collection, Bread & Water. The text behind the gorgeously apropos cover photograph—a chunk of homemade bread and a glass of water—is wide-ranging, provocative, and, like that heel of bread, hearty. What I didn’t expect was how much I’d admire these lyrical essays which took me back to the Dogpatch, but also to Vancouver, Comox, and the waters off Vancouver Island; to dee’s Calgary home, restaurants, and the 2013 flood in that city; to Fernie; and to France, where the…

Cree
University of Regina Press / 19 August 2021

nēhiyawēwin: paskwāwi-pīkiskwēwin (Cree: Language of the Plains)by Jean L. OkimāsisPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Marlin Legare$34.95 ISBN 9780889777675 Contrary to mainstream and colonial belief, Indigenous languages are not dying tongues. The rate of resurgence of Indigenous languages to the academic and literary realms are unprecedented and their continued existence and usage despite repeated attempts towards their destruction is a testament to the resiliency of Indigenous languages and those who practice them. This resiliency and dedication to Traditional languages is no better exemplified than in nēhiyawēwin: paskwāwi-pīkiskwēwin (Cree: Language of the Plains). This instructional piece of literature published by University of Regina Press was written by Jean L. Okimāsis, a retired Cree language teacher originally from White Bear First Nation who still actively works in the production of Cree resources for the First Nations University of Canada and other organizations. Reading this, it was clear to me that Okimāsis has a decorated background as an educator as it read incredibly structured to me. If one were to surround a class around the contents of this book, it would be a simple task to separate classes based on chapters or even segments of chapters. The book begins with an introduction…

Resistance
University of Regina Press / 19 August 2021

Resistance: Righteous Rage in the Age of #MeTooEdited by Sue GoyettePublished by University of Regina PressReview by Elena Bentley$24.95 ISBN 9780889778016 “[E]very woman has these / stories / or worse / even if they don’t / realize / it yet.” Poems written in response to the 2016 Jian Ghomeshi verdict fill the pages of Resistance: Righteous Rage in the Age of #MeToo, edited by Griffin Poetry Prize nominee and current Halifax Regional Municipality Poet Laureate Sue Goyette. This anthology aims to be an act of artful activism, offering “relief from [the] silence” perpetuated by a legal system that “excus[es] or pardon[s] the perpetrator’s crime.” It is a place to speak and be heard. And, most importantly, it is a space where “a collective of people… have chosen poetry to process an experience of violence.” Of the four sections into which these masterclass poems are divided, the first, “Innocence/Exposure,” is the most difficult to read as the poems are highly affective and unsettling. Men collect, pull, play games with, crouch over, stare, poke, grab, paw, pin, grope, and pinch the young girls in these poems. The speaker in Marion Mutala’s poem says these experiences “chang[e] who you become.” But, luckily, this…