Rewilding Poetry

Reviewed by Sunny Chan

Both Penn Kemp’s Fox Haunts and Natasha Kanapé Fontaine’s Blueberries and Apricots ask readers to re-envision how they place themselves in worlds both natural and of their own making. Fox Haunts uses foxes to navigate a multitude of ideas, as the “fox is both metaphor lurking behind conscious mind and a living creature reclaiming, rewilding our suburbs.” There are many types of foxes haunting this work: a cultural symbol, a folkloric trickster, a hero, and a villain, but also a living creature with a life totally separate from humans no matter what we project onto them, a reminder of the wilderness we have fooled ourselves into thinking we have removed ourselves from. One of Kemp’s key questions is whether we can respect the Other without forcing it into being something we can relate to, just honouring it as something fundamentally different from us. On the fox as a symbol: “You are no metonymy for the real.” Just as the fox is a figure that dances across the interstitial spaces between urban/rural and folklore/reality, the speaker traverses back and forth between fox as autonomous creature and fox as metaphor, for it does serve aptly as metaphor too. In the third section of the book, “Little Literary Foxes,” poetry itself is imagined as fox-like. “May you be translated. And remain / entirely your own,” the speaker says to the fox, but also as a kind of invocation of poets’ wishes.

The concept of “rewilding,” which recurs so much in Fox Haunts, is also relevant to Kanapé Fontaine’s Blueberries and Apricots, where the word is never used but fantasies of restoring the land abound. Kanapé Fontaine is Innu of the Pessamit community and writes in French, but Howard Scott’s English translation still conveys the significance of Kanapé Fontaine’s gendered, racialized position. In these poems, the body is equated with the land, and the body is female. Powerful “I” statements proliferate, yet instead of evoking the speaker as a singular individual, they are a continual reminder of her service as the voice of communities. Throughout Blueberries and Apricots, Kanapé Fontaine calls out the names of peoples in other continents, as well as refugees and those without nations, in solidarity with oppressed peoples around the world. In “The Reserve,” a vivid fantasy of the future collapse of the dominant society, the speaker leads women, migrants, and “the peoples without lands” in triumphant revolt so that “all those walls erected between nations / all those boatloads of slaves / those oppressors will have won nothing.” The coalescence of the speaker and the spoken as body and land at once is exemplified in the final poem, “Migration,” where the speaker swears “on the language of Africa,” “on the arm of Asia,” “on the leg of Siberia,” “on the foot of Oceania,” and “on the watery body of America.” This collection says important things in this era of truth and reconciliation, but it also says them in conceptually interesting ways, with dexterous poetic moves.

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