cover image The Red Files

The Red Files

Lisa Bird-Wilson. Nightwood (Midpoint, U.S. dist.; Harbour, Canadian dist.), $18.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-88971-316-1

This poetry debut from Bird-Wilson, who previously published Just Pretending, a book of short stories and nonfiction, is a haunting, beautiful collection. With poems drawing on personal experiences and historical sources, Bird-Wilson tackles the long violence of residential schools, the history that preceded them, growing up Métis in the aftermath of Canada’s attempted cultural genocide, and the small, quiet moments in a life. There is warmth, connection, and seeking in these pages, too. Bird-Wilson primarily employs free verse and prose poetry, also using formal flourishes and experimental forms to excellent effect. This is a hard read, and should be: Bird-Wilson has cracked open both her own story and the Canadian colonialist and expansionist history the country tries so hard to ignore and bury, or addresses grudgingly. Readers can hear the weight of the book’s foci in the opening of “Sweep”: “I can hold in the palm of my right hand/ all that I have left: one story-gift from an uncle,/ a father’s surname, treaty card, Cree accent echo, metal bits, grit—/ and I will still have room to cock a fist.” In many ways, Bird-Wilson has crafted a book of ghosts, both personal and communal, but, far more importantly, her collection is about the living. (May)