Settler Education

Laurie Graham. McClelland & Stewart (Penguin Random House, dist.), $18.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-7710-3687-3
This is a complicated book: well-aimed, well-researched, and well-written, but flawed. Graham (Rove) is an excellent poet, but the collection suffers when she attempts to tackle historical damage done by periodically slipping into the metaphorical skin of First Nations voices, reconstituted from primary and secondary sources. In so doing, Graham, who is white, slides deep into appropriative territory. Much of the book addresses the Plains Cree Frog Lake Uprising of 1885 and surrounding events. Graham is conscious of the colonialist history she addresses, and seeks to examine historical narrative and show how that history’s repercussions are still felt, and in that the book succeeds. The acknowledgements and notes speak to Graham’s attempts to engage First Nations sources and scholars. The poems, primarily a mix of found poetry, prose poetry, and free verse, go a long way toward speaking with a conscientious, if not insider, voice. And yet, despite that careful aim, Graham’s work may leave readers with a sincere discomfort in the presentation of the poems not tied to her own lived perspective. The collection is worth reading for how and where it succeeds, despite its stumbles. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/16/2017
Release date: 03/01/2016
Genre: Fiction
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