The death of the mother arouses poetic memories


Red River Icelandic Métis poet Jónína Kirton, now living in British Columbia, opens her third book, Standing in a river of time (Talonbooks, 224 pages, $20), with a description of when she found out her mother was dying: “I’m afraid to spit you out/welcome the grit in my teeth/defend my need to you/not interested in letting go.”

From that death, Kirton journeys back and forth through her life, weaving poetry and lyrical prose into a formally taut, spiritually expansive memoir of trauma, loss, and survival.

Kirton frequently returns to the question of belonging, threads that are tied in the death of her mother and her brothers as well as the abuse and precariousness she endures. “Never sure of my place and wary of the need to always agree, I would never fully enter a room. I always kept a part of myself on the outside and I didn’t have the feel like you belong somewhere.

From the moment she promises her young self to protect her to the bonds she traces in All my relationshipsall those homecoming moments are hard-earned: “in my center a galaxy/in my skin nearby worlds/painful memories swirling/beside an ocean of joy/…./she’s gone but still with me / all the ancestors are gone but still with me.

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In the letter with which she ends You might be sorry to read this (University of Alberta Press, 92 pages, $20), Michelle Poirier Brown writes, “Just imagining being in the same room with the secret takes my breath away.

It is a book that refuses secrets, that seeks to transform dark and disturbing experiences by confronting them with clarity and fury.

The first of two sections focuses on the speaker’s coming of age in Selkirk. Among the things she faces are her brother’s sexual abuse and her mother’s complicity: “And we don’t talk about mothers/ Mothers who know./ And shut up./ … ./ The time will come when you t ‘ll lie on your bed, knowing./ She never came./ She left.

After being told of her Indigenous ancestry, Poirier Brown documents part of the process of revising her identity with the same clarity with which she confronts the violence against her. Here, nothing is protected, neither his own behavior towards a mixed-race boy in his primary school class, nor the need for others to see themselves innocent of the colonial genocide: having a conversation with us about ours? »

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Second book by Winnipeg poet Sarah Ens, Fly away (Turnstone Press, 120 pages, $18), follows three generations of women from the Ukraine of 1929 to the Canadian prairies of today, exploring the dislocations of war, family ties and environmental degradation.

The poem is divided into five movements. Three of them, called Chanting of tall grasstake place in the present and focus on what it means to call this place, steeped in colonial violence, home: “I don’t know what I thought would happen/ when I got to this last settlement / holding field guides, family records and prayer stones / in my hands.

The other two movements follow Anni, Lydia, and their mother through violence against Mennonites in Ukraine during the 1930s, World War II, their brother’s emigration and disconnection, and, finally, a difficult settlement.

Throughout, the speaker is careful not to let her desire “to be absolved in the homecoming/…./ to be undone and remade, as if my body were not a memory/ I keep confessing a promise of land” to mask the darkness of the migration story, but it holds all the context with tenderness and an earthy, cautious touch.

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Melanie Brannagan Fredericksen is a writer and critic from Winnipeg.

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