Saturday, December 04, 2021

(Re)Generation: The Poetry of Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, selected with an introduction by Dallas Hunt

not calling you at this moment means only that i am writing poetry
because my voice cannot tell the story

of this (“driving to santa fe”)

I remember hearing Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm perform a handful of times throughout the 1990s, so I’m appreciating the opportunity not only to revisit her work, but to garner a far wider and deeper appreciation through the recently-released (Re)Generation: The Poetry of Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm. Selected with an introduction by Dallas Hunt (Waterloo ON: Wilfrid Laurier University, 2021), (Re)Generation was produced as part of the Laurier Poetry Series of critical selecteds. As Hunt offers through his critical introduction, Akiwenzie-Damm’s work emerges out of a community, influenced by and responding to the work of those around her, from forebears to contemporaries. Hunt writes on the emergence of her work as a publisher (founding Kegadonce Press, an Indigenous publishing house, in 1993), editor and organizer, all of which simultaneously broadened the scope and possibility of her poems, including how “she ‘started thinking about sex and sexuality and the utter lack of it in Indigenous writing.’” Selecting from her five books and chapbooks, as well as some uncollected pieces, Akiwenzie-Damm writes an accumulation of direct statements, one upon the other, constructing single thought-line/phrase upon single thought-line/phrase; sometimes with pause, and other times at full speed, in a rush. She blends a storytelling and spoken word aesthetic with the act of capturing full on the page a sensuality, full heart and a rush, writing history and heartbreak and breath. Writing on her explorations of desire and the erotic, Hunt offers, further on: “In many ways, this is what Akiwenzie-Damm’s work achieves: the ability for Indigenous peoples and communities to feel joyous touch, sexual pleasure, and intimacy, in spite of a colonial world that has attempted to rob us of these affective registers, both historically and in the contemporary moment.”

river song 

take me down to the river’s edge with a rush of tears and the sound of angels’ wings
give me breath with a host of desire and a single touch lifted from despair
wash my fears at the martyrs’ grave with the blood of saints shouting holy names

sing my pain in mid-summer rain with forgotten words and a tongue of fire
dance my heart like a laughing child like a drunken man with sallow cheeks lash

my burdens to another cart with ropes of your hair and no mercy feed my head
with beauty and stories collected like shells from old women in kerchiefs

and storm whipped beaches forget my ugliness and the imperfections large
and small that make me ashamed but human carve my name in the dead of night

beyond all stars and forgiveness


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