“memory knows no compromise”

  • David Groulx
    From Turtle Island to Gaza. Athabasca University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
  • Amy Fung
    Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being. BookThug (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Cornel Bogle

“I write poems no one reads” is a line that confronts the reader towards the end of David Groulx’s From Turtle Island to Gaza. Groulx, an Anishinaabe writer, declares his obscurity, signalling the ongoing erasure of Indigenous voices in the settler Canadian state. Indeed, structural, material, and symbolic violences enacted against colonized peoples by settlers are foregrounded in Groulx’s latest collection of poetry, which entwines the experiences of Indigenous peoples in settler Canada with those of Palestinians. Structured as a series of terse lamentations—often addressed to Palestinian poets—Groulx relies on confounding imagery to repudiate the settler mythologies which dubiously legitimate ongoing displacements, occupations, and violations of Indigenous peoples and their lands in Canada and Palestine. Emphasizing shared experiences of colonialism, Groulx’s poetics offers an invitation to Palestinians for not only political solidarity, but a kinship based on shared convictions that

this soil is sacred
like water
My land is holy
from it
I cannot be severed
and a shared hope for self-determination.

Groulx’s anti-colonial poetics is a far-reaching one, always reaching, and always offering. Invitational diction affirms this in lines like “[s]ing me Fanon,” “[d]ance with me once more,” and “create a space with your words and whisper it / to me.” Within these lines are propositions for a sociality that exceeds the constraints of coloniality, a sociality that is imbued with eroticism and an embodied poetics of song, dance, and whispers. While the sensuality of relationality is invoked through these lines, other moments in the collection rely upon a collective voice to lament the material and spiritual struggles of life under settler colonialism. The vacillation between the personal and collective voice is a striking feature of the collection, and it creates resonant moments where entanglements and similarities in the historical and contemporary struggles of Palestinians and Indigenous peoples in Canada become evident. Haunting questions like “Where should we go? / You and I / Where can we go?” and “[h]ow can the settler / be our master?” signal this weaving together of different yet similar geographies and histories. Lines like “we know / memory knows no compromise,” and “[o]ur lives are unpalatable to them” present the colonized in relation to the colonizer. The power of these lines—and indeed, the entire collection—is that they require readers to consider their own positionalities and complicities with colonialism.

Amy Fung’s writing has been enriched by engaging with works by Indigenous writers and anti-colonial artists like Groulx. Fung, a first-generation racialized Canadian settler and art critic, interrogates Canadian multiculturalism, settler colonialism, and migration in her debut collection of narratives, Before I Was a Critic I Was a Human Being. I am keen to call the contents of Fung’s collection narratives because she is ambivalent herself about what exactly the pieces in the collection are—describing them in the prologue as “chapters or short stories” and “fictionalized non-fiction”—but is nonetheless certain about what they do, which is to suture the life stories of immigrants to the land. Fung’s framing of her collection is compellingly audacious as she considers her writing to be “the equivalent of extremely long land acknowledgement[s].” This is audacious for multiple reasons: the first being that she embraces the genre of the land acknowledgement in a time when Indigenous writers have expressed growing disappointment with the absorption of such acknowledgements into neoliberal institutions and empty settler political rhetoric; and secondly that Fung tries to offer an account of what it means to be a racialized settler in Canada, a task whose implications are an ongoing site of debate.

Fung’s narratives are varied, ranging from stories about migration, childhood, and self-revelation to accounts of travel and cross-cultural encounters, as well as a few moments of art criticism. Informing all the narratives are two arguments: the first being that the structural conditions of settler colonialism and capitalism are a detriment to human and more-than-human relations, and disproportionately affect the lives of Indigenous peoples in Canada. By staging this argument, Fung formally offers a stimulating meditation and rehearsal of critiques of settler colonialism in Canada, without mimicking academic discourse. The second argument this collection puts forth is that all immigrants to Canada are implicated in the colonial order which oppresses Indigenous peoples. Fung writes that “immigrants eventually become settlers under colonial mentality.” This is a claim that is certainly contested by scholars in Black studies and by Métis educator Chelsea Vowel, who asserts that settler colonialism’s inherent anti-Blackness forecloses any possibility of considering enslaved peoples and their descendants settlers. Consequently, Fung makes an intervention in ongoing discourses about race, settler colonialism, and Indigeneity that is worthy of further examination. Both Fung and Groulx compellingly challenge their readers to consider the state of their political commitments, as well as the implications of their presence on the lands they inhabit.


This review ““memory knows no compromise”” originally appeared in Canadian Literature, 30 Nov. 2020. Web.

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