Field Notes for the Self
University of Regina Press / 25 March 2020

Field Notes for the Selfby Randy LundyPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95 ISBN 9-780889-776913 It’s official: Saskatchewan’s Randy Lundy is one of my favourite Canadian poets. His last collection, Blackbird Song, fueled my fandom for this erudite writer, but the recently-released Field Notes for the Self has secured it. This is a poet at the top of his game: one doesn’t so much read this new collection of mostly prose poems as she experiences it. This is Lundy’s magic: although the title indicates that these are works “for the Self” – and the second person “You” (the narrator) is addressed throughout – I felt these contemplative works so viscerally it was as if they were articulating my own intimate thoughts and practices. Move over, Mary Oliver.   In Blackbird Song, many poems spun on the word thinking, and in this handsome new volume, knowing is central. Lundy writes: “you know you know the song, but nothing is clear to you anymore,” “Your heart knows and holds the key – meditate, live purely, do your work, be quiet,” and “You know that you almost know, and you know that is as close as you will get.”  There’s a…

University of Regina Press / 25 March 2020

Raw: PrEP, Pedagogy, and the Politics of Barebacking Edited by Ricky Varghese Published by University of Regina Press Review by Toby A. Welch $34.95 ISBN 9780889776838 I have never learned as much from a book as I did from Raw. Considering that I love expanding my knowledge about almost any topic, that is a great thing! ‘Raw’ I understood but I had no idea what the subtitle of this book meant – I learned fast. PrEP, the acronym for pre-exposure prophylaxis, is an antiretroviral medicine used to prevent HIV infection. Pedagogy in general terms means educating and sharing information, often with social, critical, and cultural responsibilities. Barebacking is having intercourse without using a condom, a reference most used these days to describe two men engaging in anal sex. Now that we have the title cleared up, let’s jump in! A massive amount of time and research went into the compilation of this book. Each of the 14 contributors, including the editor of the tome, has an impressive resume. As for what this book is about, the editor sums it up best in his introduction: “Each of the authors in this project provides a rigorous examination of the ideological, socio-political, ethical,…

Angry Queer Somali Boy
University of Regina Press / 7 February 2020

Angry Queer Somali Boy: A Complicated Memoirby Mohamed Abdulkarim AliPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$21.95 ISBN 9-780889-776593 Sometimes a single line succinctly underscores the depths of the valley a person’s experienced. Deep into Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali’s memoir, Angry Queer Somali Boy: A Complicated Memoir, the Torontonian’s phrase “the first day I was homeless for the second time” leaps off the page, and it’s an example of how this first-time writer both lives, and writes. Changes happen quickly, and the reader finds herself catching her breath. Ali’s memoir was published as part of the University of Regina Press’s series The Regina Collection. These pocket-sized hardcovers emulate the U of R’s motto, “a voice of many peoples,” and “tell the stories of those who have been caught up in social and political circumstances beyond their control.” Born in Mogadishu in 1985, Ali was removed from his mother’s home at age five to join his father and the man’s new family in Abu Dhabi, then relocated to a refugee camp in the Netherlands (sans Dad). The next move – with his abusive stepmother and her kids – was to Toronto’s “Jane and Finch area,” where in school “The relationships…

Frenemy Nations
University of Regina Press / 18 December 2019

Frenemy Nations: Love and Hate Between Neighbo(u)ring StatesBy Mary SoderstromPublished by University of Regina PressReviewed by Michelle Shaw$27.95 ISBN 9780889776722 In the summer of 1968, Mary Soderstrom and her husband loaded up their Volkswagen Beetle and immigrated to Canada from the United States. “We were young, we were disgusted with the [Vietnam] war, and we were hopeful that we’d find something different across the border,” she says. “But to be honest, we didn’t expect things to be too different. After all, weren’t Canada and the United States very much alike?” The contrast between their new home and their old led to a long running reflection that continued to intrigue her over the years.…How could two places that are similar in so many ways be so disparate in others? In Fremeny Nations, Soderstrom looks at a range of geographical “odd couples” that she has encountered over the years. In addition to the United States and Canada, the book also examines the two Vietnams, Algeria and Tunisia, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Brazil and the rest of South America, Burundi and Rwanda, Scotland and Ireland, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Vermont and New Hampshire and, intriguingly, Alberta and Saskatchewan. The book explores these…

Florence of America
University of Regina Press / 8 October 2019

Florence of America: A Feminist in the Age of McCarthyismby Florence Bean James, with Jean FreemanPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Keith Foster$24.95 ISBN 9780889776470 Florence of America: A Feminist in the Age of McCarthyism is the autobiography of Florence Bean James and her passionate struggle against oppression to establish quality theatre in North America. Part of The Regina Collection published by the University of Regina Press, Florence of America is a slightly condensed reprint of her earlier memoir, Fists Upon A Star. The new version has a more compact format – easy to carry in one’s pocket and handy to pull out while sitting in waiting rooms. In her memoir, Florence recalls her exciting life. Starting out at the end of the First World War was difficult for her and her husband, Burton. The bedroom of their New York apartment was so small that once they moved the bed in, they couldn’t close the door. Their rent was three dollars a week, plus quarters for the gas meter, and included cockroaches, which stayed rent-free. Working temporarily as a switchboard operator, Florence hid twelve dollars, her weekly salary, under some shelf paper in the kitchen cupboard. Next week, in…

Back to Blakeney
University of Regina Press / 8 October 2019

Back to Blakeney: Revitalizing the Democratic Stateedited by David McGrane, John D. Whyte, Roy Romanow, and Russell IsingerPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Keith Foster$34.95 ISBN 9780889776418 Back to Blakeney: Revitalizing the Democratic State is the political biography of Allan Blakeney, a political giant who served as Saskatchewan’s tenth premier from 1971 to 1982. This 342-page volume stems directly from a 2015 conference held at the University of Saskatchewan in which fifteen academic essayists discussed and evaluated Blakeney’s legacy to the democratic state in Canada. It’s wholly appropriate that academics discuss Blakeney as he himself was an academic, achieving early distinction as a Rhodes scholar. As the subtitle suggests, this study harks back to Saskatchewan in the 1970s, a difficult but in some ways a better time. It was better because Blakeney stuck to his principles in trying times. The editors applaud Blakeney’s “openness to other views” and “his ability to extend courtesy in debate” – rare phenomena in today’s politics. In paying tribute to Blakeney’s many achievements, this scholarly study reveals a certain slant in perception; the editors acknowledge that Blakeney was a personal friend of theirs. One of the essayists and editors is Roy Romanow, a former…

Hell & Damnation
University of Regina Press / 6 September 2019

Hell and Damnation: A Sinner’s Guide to Eternal Tormentby Marq de VilliersPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Madonna Hamel$24.95 ISBN 9780889775848 “Did you know,” I phoned my friend with urgent information, “there is a special hell reserved just for people who borrow books and never give them back?” “What are you getting at?” “I’m reviewing Marq de Villier’s book Hell and Damnation: A Sinner’s Guide to Eternal Torment,and in it he describes the thousands of hells depicted by everyone from Dante to Christopher Hitchens and in everything from the Bible to Chinese Buddhism, where it turns out the afterlife is divided into ten courts and one of those ten courts in called The Mirror of Sin-” “ Sin? Isn’t that a Christian concept?” “Oh no, Christians have no monopoly on ‘sin’. Nor, it turns out on ‘hell’. But let me get to the point: The Mirror of Hell allows you to look back at your wasted life, at all the things you could have done but didn’t. It also affords you a view of several courts where the unfortunate dead are pierced and flailed by their own failings, including everything from ‘lying about one’s age when getting married, complaining…

Live Ones
University of Regina Press / 6 September 2019

Live Onesby Sadie McCarneyPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$19.95 ISBN 9-780889-776500 I’ve reviewed hundreds of books over the decades, and have developed a kind of ritual before I read a single word of the text proper. Today Charlottetown poet Sadie McCarney’s first book, Live Ones, is under inspection. A book is a reverent thing. Firstly, I turn it in my hands, and study the front and back covers. McCarney’s slim cream-coloured volume is adorned with a small purple graphic, Winged Skull / Memento Mori, by artist Susan Crawford. What does this image suggest about the poems? There will be sorrow – quite possibly death – addressed within these pages. I flip to the back, read the publisher’s blurb, any other blurbs (usually provided by accomplished writers), and biographical notes about the author. Here I learn that McCarney’s book “grapples with mourning, coming of age, and queer identity against the backdrop of rural and small-town Atlantic Canada.” First books often cast a wide net. Next I check the author’s birth year (just curious), if available; her Acknowledgments (where these poems previously appeared – impressive); and finally, I scan the individual titles in the Contents. Titles interest me….

University of Regina Press / 6 September 2019

The Homesteadersby Sandra Rollings-MagnussonPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Madonna Hamel$39.95 ISBN 9780889775152 One day, while doing research for her master’s thesis on women and farming, author and professor Sandra Rollings-Magnusson was presented with a stack of questionnaires. Called ‘The Pioneer Questionnaires’, they were compiled and distributed in the 1950s and were still being returned in the 1970s by respondents born mostly between 1873 and 1924. She soon shifted her focus to culling, organizing and transcribing them into a book, determined to “give these people a voice” so they “would not be forgotten.” The result is not nostalgic hearsay but a collection of witness impact statements, verbatim responses to a series of questions divided into relevant categories, covering everything from what Canada’s first wave of immigrants ate and did for fun, to how they survived ill health, storms and isolation. These stories and anecdotes hold the kind of intimacy and immediacy that only direct experience can convey. The Homesteaders is replete with archival photos as well. Memories of immigrants escaping hardships in countries that included Russia, Germany, Poland, England, Norway and Switzerland are made more acute by imagery. As are recipes for pies and pot roasts made more mouthwatering…

In My Own Moccasins: A Memoir of Resilience
University of Regina Press / 5 September 2019

In My Own Moccasins: A Memoir of Resilienceby Helen KnottPublished by University of Regina PressReview by Shelley A. Leedahl$24.95 ISBN 9-780889-776449 When a novice author earns the praise of writers like Maria Campbell and Richard Van Camp, it’s like a promise: readers are in for a powerful experience. But Helen Knott’s In My Own Moccasins: A Memoir of Resilience, also comes with a warning: the content is “related to addiction and sexual violence. It is sometimes graphic and can be triggering for readers.” The author suggests that any readers who are triggered “be gentle with [themselves].” She opens her story by acknowledging other women’s painful memories, and stating that she “gives this in hopes that [they] remember that [they] are worth a thousand horses.” I am already wowed. As suggested, I’m not alone. Eden Robinson’s written the memoir’s foreword, and says Knott – a Dane Zaa, Nehiyaw, and mixed Euro-descent writer in Northeastern BC – is “one of the most powerful voices of her generation.” Knott’s introduction to the compact hardcover reveals her raison d’être for the book: “I summoned these words and the healing that comes with them to lighten the loads of shame, addiction, and struggle” for Indigenous…