Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Shane Rhodes, X: Poems & Anti-Poems

as may have been grunted
treaty five

As aforesaid within, hereunto the hereinafter, thereupon and hereby thereof. That is to say, within the aforesaid that whatsoever thereto, that is, there whereas within, thereon. Therein, however, that whereas, hereinafter elsewhere, thereto unless therefor. That within the that that is that, what soever, forever within the hereby, that thereupon, there is to heretofore that within. Whereas, that is to say, inasmuch hereby in that, therefor hereinafter within this. Within therein that is. Within, that is, thereabout unless thereof—hereafter throughout. And, as aforesaid, any part thereof otherwise elsewhere or hereinbefore hereby—thereto, as aforesaid, hereof within whenever. Thereon thereof whatsoever wherever forever. That is to say, however, therein thereout, therefore within. Whereas thereof, hereby within. Within the aforesaid, therefor within the hereainafter.

In his fifth trade poetry collection, X:Poems & Anti-Poems (Nightwood Editions, 2013), Ottawa poet Shane Rhodes works to reconcile the clash of histories and cultures, composing poems from various subjects and issues surrounding Canada’s First Nations peoples, including conflicts, treaties and appropriations such as the conflict at Oka and the Indian Act as well as Idle No More and its various public responses. Given the work achieved through the rise of Idle No More, it would seem Rhodes was slightly ahead of the curve, attempting to explore and question some of the structures inherent between two sides in such deep conflict, given that their language markers and concepts are so vastly different. As he writes in the poem “sôniyâwahkêsîs,” part of the larger “Preoccupied Space,” a poem that quite literally has a river of words running through it:

            listen to them              pounding their nations down
                        into this dream land
            church spires            schools               land registries

Some might recall that, a couple of years back, Rhodes made waves by donating the prize-money he won for his Lampman-Scott Award (the merging of the Archibald Lampman Award and the Duncan Campbell Scott Award) for the sake of Duncan Campbell Scott’s tainted history as the Minister of Indian Affairs, thereby forcing the annual Ottawa poetry book prize back to its roots as the Archibald Lampman Award. Some might argue a complication due his use of voice, a thread that came up slightly through his previous collection, Err (Nightwood Editions, 2011), when he utilized the voices of AIDS patients, deliberately blurring the lines between engagement and discomfort.

The book is built up of two sections: “Poems,” which is constructed out of four sections and a “Notes and Acknowledgements,” and continues from the other side of the book with “Anti-Poems,” a section made up of the poem “White Noise.” As Rhodes writes at the end of the second half of the book (which is, technically, somewhere in the middle):

White Noise is composed of material harvested from 15, 283 public comments posted in response to fifty-five online news articles from the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Sun News, the Ottawa Citizen, the Province, and the Calgary Herald over a forty day period between December 20, 2012 and January 28, 2013. All news articles were in relation to the Idle No More protest movement and the beginning and end of the hunger strike of Theresa Spence, Chief of the Attawapiskat First Nations reserve. Idle No More started in Saskatchewan in November 2012 as a grassroots movement led by First Nations to protest recent attacks on Indigenous sovereignty, treaty rights, human rights and environmental protections by the Government of Canada. Adding to this protest, Chief Theresa Spence began her hunger strike—subsisting on a liquid diet of medicinal teas and fish broth—on December 11, 2012 demanding, among other things, a meeting between Canada’s First Nations leadership, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the Governor General of Canada to discuss Canada’s treaty relationship with First Nations. Her hunger strike ended on January 24, 2013.

There is something about the book itself that presents a conformity of shape, while the poems physically cohere to an entirely different set of considerations. The poems feel uncomfortable within the shape of the book, something that might be entirely deliberate, forcing the language of one structure into an arbitrary other. Throughout the collection, Rhodes utilizes a variety of fonts, sizes and line directions to compose a series of polyvocal poems – visual poems, prose poems, lists, long poems, etcetera – to articulate, track and explore an ongoing conflict of generations, filled with Empire, deliberate misunderstandings and outright racist strategies by the Federal Government (including by Duncan Campbell Scott himself). How do two sides coincide when they approach land and space so very differently? As he writes further on in the poem “sôniyâwahkêsîs”: “you are history     I think / but not the one I was taught [.]”


Blackfoot, Blood,
Peigan, Sarcee, Stony
and perhaps Native American
be inhabitedwithpower to distrat
most sofullIcan’teatmore beadworkdesign
and unwillinglydefiate,
do overhere!buyoncredit seed,
pass out,
and yell
high person in government of CanOpener
the Medicinal herbs Magpie Queen
and herbdrink inrapidsuccession pasteverything,
all there! honest, badname,
and privy
to land inurved
smallgointhewater to follow limp,
that tosaysomethingofnoimportance:

I’m intrigued at Rhodes’ use of the phrase “anti-poems,” and might question what he thinks the phrase means, siding one against another, “poems” against its mirror. Which side is “poem,” and which becomes that which is against? Rhodes’ poems have long held an experimental bent against more formal strategies, but in this collection, he allows the more experimental side to really flourish, pushing up against all sides of the printed page. This is a complicated and deliberately troubled and troubling book, one that hopefully further opens a conversation that has been so very long in coming.

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