Attention Canadian Literature Professors

  • Nyla Matuk (Editor)
    Resisting Canada: An Anthology of Poetry. Véhicule Press (purchase at
  • Amber Dawn (Editor) and Justin Ducharme (Editor)
    Hustling Verse: An Anthology of Sex Workers’ Poetry. Arsenal Pulp Press (purchase at
Reviewed by Sarah-Jean Krahn

Resisting Canada insists on transformation of the CanLit topography: no more hiding behind the tepid or hollow. This anthology—no supplement, but foundation—reimagines the mountains of Canada’s literary landscape. The tectonic plates are shifting, and finally through the haze the imposing shadows of tireless writers like Marie Annharte Baker and Lee Maracle emerge as the megaliths of Canada’s—Kanata’s—literary lineage. The anthology furthermore calls on all poets to use their platform to decolonize. When we have “nothing to say,” we snub the simple message: “No More, No More, No More, No More” (Janet Rogers). Our duty will be done through substantive, politically savvy content that refuses the colonial state via glaring, variegated forms that challenge the literary status quo. From its excerpts from Jordan Abel’s Injun to Rita Wong’s “forage, fumage,” the composition of poetic contours in this collection of twenty-eight poets includes reclaimed settler texts and handwritten glossaries. The majority of these poems stagger too much under the weight of layered strata to fit on a single page. There is too much to say through five-hundred-plus years of genocide for a few left-aligned stanzas on a white page. Janet Rogers explains: “being Indian . . . takes stories, lots and lots and lots of stories.” Meanwhile, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson recounts publishers’ refusals of her “polemic” tone. Armand Garnet Ruffo confronts Susanna Moodie and Duncan Campbell Scott with the context of their white lies, as El Jones slams in exclamatory style to keep resuscitated the memory of Viola Desmond and the victimization of Omar Khadr. As a unit, the poets reclaim the land and its languages as Indigenous terrains that sustain their original citizenry and cultivate a diaspora of allies who ardently decry colonial-hypercapitalism’s crusade to exterminate this land.

Resistance is equally relevant to Hustling Verse. The poets who glitter its pages prove themselves to be “system-smashing-creative-fucking-geniuses,” as dubbed by co-editor Amber Dawn. Here, too, the poets rarely deign to service convention. Play with space means this is their boudoir, their rules; with punctuation, their pace, their breath. They support and celebrate each other, as tzaz does in siren-singing the praises of the mermaid girls they croon with. They are sustained through stalwart humour, envisioning “A John’s Funeral” (K. Sedgemore) or performing a “Tale of Two Sarahs” to challenge the white-sex worker nemeses who stonewall AK Saini’s activism. But, while autonomy endures, several poems stick to your bones, quietly acknowledging calumny and assault, like jaye simpson’s “r e d” does of a grovelling rapist. Even the banal can be brutal, like the mint he puts in his mouth “as though / my sucking your dick changed your breath / somehow” (Aimee Herman). Poet hustlers explode at the centre of a systemic inhumanity’s intersections—colonization, homophobia, poverty, racism, sexism, transphobia, xenophobia—and smash to shame -isms of injustice which would never accept the body to be relished and rewarded in a safe, consensual environment for fear of engendering collective empowerment, like that in Strawberry’s “3 strong pairs of hands,” wherein alchemist friends fulfill “violence so loving.” You will find this anthology “handcuffed to [your] throat as [you] run / away” (kiran anthony foster).

This review “Attention Canadian Literature Professors” originally appeared in Canadian Literature, 28 Aug. 2020. Web.

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