The Education of Augie Merasty
University of Regina Press / 22 January 2016

The Education of Augie Merasty by Joseph Auguste Merasty with David Carpenter Published by University of Regina Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $21.95 978-0-88977-368-4 The creation of The Education of Augie Merasty, by Joseph Auguste Merasty with David Carpenter, which describes Merasty’s experience at St. Therese Residential School in Sturgeon Landing Saskatchewan between 1935 and 1944, from the age of five to fourteen, was a labour of tenderness and patience. From the point of Carpenter receiving a forwarded letter in spring of 2001 asking for professional assistance to the completion of the book, the endeavour took over thirteen years. Carpenter took no less than five trips from Saskatoon to Prince Albert to “run down” the elusive memoirist to finally sign the publication contract. Carpenter writes: “by telling the stories of others and connecting them to his own experience, Merasty broadened his range of inquiry, and […] the implications of his sometimes horrific story, a story in which our entire nation is darkly and obscurely complicit.” Whether readers like it or not, untold numbers of people were treated in a dehumanising way at the residential schools. Merasty does not get mired in recounting every small injustice (as if such things can…

Northern Trader
University of Regina Press / 10 December 2015

Northern Trader: The Last Days of the Fur Trade by H. S. M. Kemp Published by University of Regina Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $27.95 9780889773165 Originally published in the 1950s, Northern Trader: The Last Days of the Fur Trade by H.S.M. Kemp is a memoir that begins in 1908 with Harold Kemp in his teens making the trip to Lac La Ronge to ask for a job with the Hudson Bay Company. With romantic thoughts in his mind about what it might be like to be a “company man,” he encountered frozen lakes that made canoe travel out of the question, necessitating a hard suffering walking trip. Unaccustomed to moccasins and snowshoes, under advisement of his native guide, he rubbed bacon grease on his feet every night, and finally reverted back to his patent leather shoes in favor of their hard soles. To travel the northern elements, with cracked feet, in search of a job seems surprising, but that’s how Kemp did it. Northern Trader is written in a very accessible style by a white Prince Albert man originally from England. Through his stories the reader learns that he is no ordinary “company man” in that he prefers to…

Human on the Inside
University of Regina Press / 20 October 2015

Human on the Inside: Unlocking the Truth About Canada’s Prisons by Gary Garrison Published by University of Regina Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $29.95 ISBN 9780889773769 Gary Garrison’s book Human on the Inside: Unlocking the Truth About Canada’s Prisons is a work of nonfiction that expounds upon different aspects of the prison system in Alberta, with some references to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Garrison was a volunteer (and subsequently a coordinator) of a program called M2W2 which places volunteer visitors with prisoners of the same gender. Garrison’s position “as a person with a community agency” is to be impartial, supporting convicts, guards, police, chaplains, native elders, victims, and potential future victims. From this point of view, he must let the reader know where he comes from, what he believes, and where he stands; therefore, in actuality, much of this book is, selflessly, and earnestly, about him. Initially I thought that the book was going to go into gory detail about crime, but that’s not the bent here. There are few crimes that are actually briefly described within these pages. Garrison’s focus is not on the crimes themselves so much as the people involved, how they are affected, and how they go forward in life….

Stealing Home
Hagios Press / 18 June 2015

Stealing Home by Dwayne Brenna Published by Hagios Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $17.95 978-192671021-1 Stealing Home, a book of poetry by Dwayne Brenna, begins strong, careening through a tour of baseball parks. Some of the more notable parks mused on include Ebbets Field, Candlestick Park, and The Big O. In a poem called “Shea Stadium, New York City, 2005” Brenna uses the senses to provide vivid imagery: “the thwack of hickory…and rumble rising from expensive seats down low.” Here, auditory language is used to evoke the sounds of the game, which causes seasoned fans to reminisce about their ballpark experiences, or allow someone who doesn’t understand sports fans to put his/herself in their place. For those of you scoring at home, this also calls to mind that before television, most people experienced professional baseball through radio only. At the end of the first section, in “Cairns Field, Saskatoon, 2010,” Brenna evokes the visual: “the infield grass is luminous, as green / as spring in your imaginings. The lights / of Saskatoon are dots against the sky, / the deep blue sky behind right field.” This is my favourite passage, putting me right back on the mound. I recall seeing…

Masham Means Evening
Coteau Books / 9 June 2015

Masham Means Evening by Kanina Dawson Published by Coteau Books Review by Kris Brandhagen $16.95 978-1-55050-550-4 Sitting in the sun on my patio I feel a slight breeze. I feel secure, safe, and the chirping birds induce a calming presence over the distant sounds of construction. Opening this book of poetry, Masham Means Evening, written by Ottawa poet Kanina Dawson, from the perspective of a female Canadian soldier, I am transported into the intense heat, dust, and destruction of the war in Afghanistan. Though I suspect that war defies cohesive description, Dawson uses nuanced, economical language to flesh out the experience. Men, women, and children are maimed or killed, be they Afghan civilian, Taliban fighter, or coalition soldier. Afghan females, however, are struck or killed at the best of times, just for being female: a little girl is beaten by her uncle because Canadian soldiers wave at her, a female electoral candidate is murdered by her brothers. Acts of god factor in as well, as an earthquake kills a dozen schoolgirls. In her poem “Working for the Coalition,” Dawson writes, “it’s amazing the things you don’t stay amazed at. Afghan cooks / risk losing their heads [to the Taliban] to…

A Family of Our Own

A Family of Our Own by Donna Miller Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Kris Brandhagen $21.95 978-1927756-08-9 A Family of Our Own, by Donna Miller, book two of her Help Me, I’m Naked series of books, proves an excellent read on its own, honest and earnest, independently of the first and third books. Miller opens the story with a prologue, in a way that abruptly smacks of childlike innocence. “My daddy would never do something like that for real. The arguing and fighting were plays they put on for my benefit, though my young mind couldn’t understand why they would want to perform such horrible plays. Sometimes I found the scenes so scary, so crimson, I would go hide in my closet.” This sense of disbelief sets the stage for the body of the book, which is a memoir (with changed names) of the tragedies that she and the women and children in her family have endured, spanning the years 1966 through 1974, when the main character, Korel, is in grade seven to the age of twenty-three. The severity of Korel’s own situation is hinted at through her sense of awe at finding herself in the midst…

for what it is
Your Nickel's Worth Publishing / 10 November 2014

for what it is by Joan Newton Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing Review by Kris Brandhagen $16.95 978-1-894431-90-3 The first things I noticed about for what it is by Joan Newton were its title, and its cover image. The cover shows a painted image of a floating table on top of which sits a pair of reading glasses next to a book set facedown to save the page. The objects seem about to slide off the table, providing tension although it appears, at first glance, to be very calm and relaxing. Throughout for what it is, I noticed a variety of poetic devices. Newton pays close attention to how she uses vowels and consonants in each poem, including conversational language, affecting the way the poems sound. Newton’s approach to writing is playful; her lines sometimes continue without pause, and at times she uses rhythm, rhyme, and circular structure. In the poem “Moment” Newton explores a pleasurable experience with which many readers will likely identify: She upends the paper bag over her small son’s cupped hands shaking into them the last of the sugary crumbs. Snuffling up the sweetness, he rubs his face laughs and they are happy. This poem…

Threading Light: Explorations in Loss and Poetry
Hagios Press / 11 July 2012

Threading Light: Explorations in Loss and Poetry by Lorri Neilsen Glenn Published by Hagios Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $18.95 CAD 978-1-926710-11-2 Lorri Neilsen Glenn’s Threading Light: Explorations in Loss and Poetry, is simmered to perfection; reading it wasn’t enough, I wanted to chew it, comprised as it is mostly of tender, slow-cooked self-reflexive prose, seasoned with poetry as earthy and rich as rosemary. A morsel of this work spends a moment in the mouth, red wine reduction keeps one licking the lips, and wanting another bite. This book presents to me, again, that we, in the prairies are our own flavour of people. Though our seat may seem insignificant, we are not; our lives are just as heated as those anywhere else. And we have visceral challenges. And we feel deeply. Neilsen Glenn’s writing, originally from the prairies, is browned by world experience and a fork-tender perspective. “A decade flies by. Children on bicycles… Jeffrey has kicked the dog and she isn’t moving… Allan collapses from a stroke in front of the stove, mumbling incoherently; paramedics and a babysitter are in the driveway. The next semester, and the next and next and next. Screams in the emergency room as…

A Woman Clothed In Words
Coteau Books / 27 June 2012

A Woman Clothed in Words by Anne Szumigalski Published by Coteau Books Review by Kris Brandhagen $16.95 CAD 978155050478 The name Anne Szumigalski has long been ubiquitous in Saskatchewan’s writing community. According to A Woman Clothed in Words editor Mark Abley, “[t]he depth and breadth of her involvement in the Saskatchewan literary community are hard to overestimate. Anne was a founding member of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild, a founding editor of Grain, and the first writer-in-residence at the Saskatoon Public Library”. She was a complex writer, who refused to be nailed down to a specific poetics, by herself, by anyone else, or even by her poems, preferring to always push boundaries, in terms of writing in all genres, and writing in-between genres, as well as collaborating with all sorts of other arts media and professionals. It is noted by Abley that, “the interplay between language and the female body shapes much of her work.” We find out where the title of this book comes from in an excerpt from the “Thin Pale Man”: …here’s the river again and the ice and Anna giving herself to love all garments fall from her but the garment of words and what could be…

The Ditch Was Lit Like This
Thistledown Press / 29 February 2012

The Ditch Was Lit Like This by Sean Johnston Published by Thistledown Press Review by Kris Brandhagen $17.95 CAD 978-1-897235-94-2 Right from the beginning, I could glean that The Ditch Was Lit Like This by Sean Johnston is about those in-between times when we are focused on getting wherever it is we are going, and about what we leave behind, as well as what we lose altogether. The first poem ends with the apt question, “Are you ready?” Figuring that I was, I eagerly turned the page. This poet associates night with travel; even when at home, stationary, the night is a journey. What I really like about this book is that there seem to be poems within poems. And what is refreshing is that Johnston addresses the problem of language. These pages are complex and beautiful, exploring binary concepts like joy/discomfort. The strongest point of this body of poems is how Johnston includes the reader on the journey, exploring the more delicate and philosophical points of family, and romance: “…the response is either love returned or love withheld—that is, of course, if something has been risked, and the real invitation is this: birth, eyes that behold beauty, hearts that…