E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake: The Texts
- Carole Gerson (Author) and Veronica Strong-Boag (Author)
E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake: Collected Poems and Selected Prose. University of Toronto Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Cecily Devereux
The work of Mohawk and English-Canadian writer E. Pauline Johnson (1861-1913) has never been entirely out of print, and Johnson has been a familiar figure on the nation’s popular and literary cultural landscape at least since the 1890s when she began her costumed poetry performances. The appearance, then, of the volume, E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake: Collected Poems and Selected Prose does not have to do with the return of a lost writer to canonical status or with the feminist recovery that volume editors Carole Gerson and Veronica Strong-Boag are so widely recognized for having in English-Canadian literature and history. At one level a companion-piece for the biographical study produced by Strong-Boag and Gerson (Paddling Her Own Canoe: The Times and Texts of E. Pauline Johnson), the new volume rather works to correct some misconceptions of Johnson and her work—notably, that she wrote mostly “Indian” poetry, and that she wrote mostly poetry for her whole career—and to provide a good, well-researched, usable resource for students and scholars of Johnson, First Nations writing in English, women’s writing, and of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century English-Canadian literary and cultural studies. Gerson and Strong-Boag’s book collects Johnson’s poetry for the first time: the popular and much-reprinted Flint and Feather (1912) does not, as the editors note here, include all the poems, something that is a relatively common problem for early “complete” editions of the works of English-Canadian poets. In addition to the collected verse, this new volume also includes a selection of prose writings from the early collections The Shagganappi and The Moccasin Maker (both 1913) as well as from uncollected and manuscript material. As the editors point out, a collection of Johnson’s prose would take many more pages than are possible in this single volume; thus the pairing of the collected verse with the selected prose. Gerson and Strong-Boag’s comprehensive bibliography of Johnson’s prose was published in the 2000 biography, and is not included in the Collected Verse and Selected Prose.
The verse is organized chronologically, and further divided into periods: “The Early Years: Beginnings to 1888,” “The Prolific Years: 1889-1898,” and “The Later Years: 1899-1913,” with an additional section of “Anonymous and Pseudonymous Poems.” The poetry’s periodization is not explicit in the organizing of the selected prose, although it is implicit: the prose pieces are presented in order of publication, rather than thematically or with reference to categories such as “fiction” or “non-fiction.” Although broadly representative, the prose selections tend toward writing concerned with First Nations gendered identities and with ideologies of imperial maternalism as they interpellate—or do not interpellate—Native women. For both the poetry and the prose, the editors have provided detailed notes that are placed unobtrusively at the back of the book. They elegantly fulfill the obligation of a scholarly edition to include information about the writing and publishing of texts and about copy texts, as well as about other contextual matters. Indeed, the notes for this volume represent an enormously valuable resource for scholars in many areas, such as nineteenth-century poetry, popular media, and gender and professional writing.
This is a very good book for a number of reasons, the most obvious of which might be simply the fact of the collection of Johnson’s poems. The collection, however, is greatly enhanced by the editors’ careful attention to the texts, to their establishing a chronology in tandem with their detailed notes, and of course to the concise, readable introduction, incorporating the biographical narrative of Johnson, a lucid and informative account of the publication history of her works, and the gendered and racialized politics surrounding Johnson’s writing. Flint and Feather, arguably, did a particular kind of work, presenting Johnson as a poet of simultaneous and unconflicted “Indianness” and “Canadianness,” something that has suited white settler canon constructions for many years; this volume intervenes in the national fantasies that have continued to circulate around Johnson to complicate this literary figure in interesting and important ways.
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MLA: Devereux, Cecily. E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake: The Texts. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 11 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #184 (Spring 2005), (Grace, Dolbec, Kirk, Dawson, Appleford). (pg. 148 - 149)
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