1256 Poems of innocence & endurance
Resistance: Righteous Rage in the Age of #MeToo
by Sue Goyette (editor)
Regina: University of Regina Press, 2021
$24.95 / 9780889778016
Reviewed by Linda Rogers
They say our first toy is language, Joyce’s baby tuckoo arranging the universe in a sound poem, later a song, a novel. We are not only amused but also controlled by words like “Stop” and “Go” permission defined in significant juxtaposition of vowels and consonants. Then there is “No” the word of the hour an ambivalence that defines women and sometimes little boys, trembling at the edge, No! saying maybe, a soft consonant followed by a vowel, because fear defines us and power is just beyond
Sue Goyette, the editor of this selection of poems of the resistance, the ways in which we have been conditioned to conform to a status quo established farther back than we can remember. He for God only and she for the God in him is the prescription of power written in every holy book and the commandments of capitalism, world domination and natural destruction by the patrimony.
These phrases resonate in poems of defiance she chose for this book of shame and blame: “I didn’t say no,” “Boys will be boys,” “Oh, what a bad girl am I,” as the victims of rape, minds and bodies taken by force, remember how they lost their power and how they would need to regain it.
We are all the child and adult victims of violent coercion, programmed to take direction from cues, the way dressage horses respond to commands from the whip, the heel, the bit in the mouth. We are beautiful in our agony and sometimes we allow our agony to become our pleasure, the theatre of the familiar and that, Goyette assures us in her introduction, is wrong. This book is sprinkled with cues, lest we forget and trip over them.
In art as in life, the paradigm is perverted, as we see reflected in Joan Crate’s “The Rape of Leda.”
Gilt-framed, holding her swan, she lies,
across the canvas, the paint
on her silence cracking.
Sadly, the swan of legend is male, when everyone knows swans are loyal and the females fiercely protective of their young.
The sound of silence resonates in these poems, Garbo’s “Don’t Speak” speaks for every moment a child is violated, whether by a peer, a parent, a priest, a teacher. We are all female when we are the victim, even little boys at the discretion of the clergy. “It’s not what you do. It’s what people say you do” is what passes for wisdom in late capitalist society, where girls never tell their mothers because it is always their fault for being too provocative, too smart, too funny. So we put away our childish things and embrace silence, the prison of the voiceless as in “A Death so Close” by Rosemary Anderson:
Forty years condemned
to my Hell
fraught with fear
The priest they sent
to just another place.
I wish I could’ve told you
before you passed away
as Marion Mutala’s “elephant in the room grows and grows.”
Rape is myriad micro and macro assaults on the innocent, as Anderson’s poem suggests. It is the physical violation and emotional assault perfected by clergymen, the ultimate patriarchy, aided and abetted by their handmaidens, nuns whose own power and sexual pleasure comes from “suffering little children.” They know children are silenced by guilt and threats of punishment. The victim is always guilty and “invite” is the dirty verb that is used against them. “You asked for it.”
This is the cruel history of stolen Indigenous children who have carried the blame for their annihilation for centuries, as clergy of every stripe struggled to recreate them in the shape of their oppressors, also the desideratum of British boarding schools where Christian soldiers, armed in the lessons of dormitory sex and violence, were marched out to perfect world domination.
In her powerful expose of domestic abuse, Penn Kemp tells us “What we did not know in 1972. What has changed”:
We can talk to no one, certainly not each other, about
the sudden black holes, the mind-fields in ordinary
conversation that suddenly erupt. Because most often,
they are not there. The house is simply a house, the scene
domestic with cat and kids, and cauliflower on the stove.
The question addressed by this collection is. Has it? What will it take to restore matriarchy, the balance in society that will give moon and sun equal power over night and day? In the years of pandemic and climate apocalypse we are beginning to understand this lack of balance that gives some the power to hurt others, to rape where they see weakness and disrupt the planet. That is why books like this matter.
As the eye moves from poems of innocence through endurance, rage and survival separated by photographs of the fragile but strong feet and tutus of ballerinas, we arrive at the certain conclusion: truth is the beginning of recovery.
Heather Read assures us in “The power in a name” that the silence must be broken before repair is possible.
And after that now when I say your name
It rings mute and dead, heavy as lead
The echo chamber is lined with soft fleece
The echo is empty
And this is what you get.
Just as skin is broken in “The way the Crocodile Taught me” when Katrina Naomi leaves the mark of her smile in her attacker’s flesh, these poems are rife with verbs, the action words that carry us, hopefully, to redemption, The dialectic is taking control of the language that has oppressed us and restoring balance, Texas be damned in this collection, a compilation of the straight goods, with rarely a glimpse of the facile line or image. It is truth-telling, raw and obvious. That is its intention, as line after line resonates in memory, not as art, a contrivance, but as truth, a necessity.
In the deadly game of call and response, the victims pause. Full stop is the moment of truth, the period at the end of the sentence, when the bully is named. The first is Jian, a public sadist. Word, no longer a toy, is transformed into the hammer of justice as many follow.
Linda Rogers, a Canadian People’s Poet, has spent the pandemic gathering writing, design, and visual art by her swan sisters, by many creators for the anthology Mother, the Verb, the Swan Sister Treasure Book, which affirms the importance of matriarchy in maintaining the balance of life. Editor’s note: Linda Rogers has recently reviewed books by Cid V. Brunet, Betsy Warland, Yvonne Owens, Junie Désil, Rob Taylor, Andrea Actis, Grace Lau, Janet Gallant & Sharon Thesen, Philip Resnick, Celeste Nazeli Snowber, Patrick Friesen, Stephen Collis, Colin Browne, Heidi Greco, and Liv Albert for The Ormsby Review.
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