New Star Blogs

Annharte returns with her first new book in almost a decade

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Back about a dozen years ago, when I was work­ing up the courage to ask Annharte, aka Marie Bak­er, for a man­u­script, I set about to get hold of her pre­vi­ous and only oth­er book, Being On the Moon. It had been pub­lished by Polestar back in its pre-Rain­coast incar­na­tion, and I wasn’t sur­prised that it wasn’t wide­ly stocked. Duthie Books spe­cial ordered it for me.

The courage I need­ed had noth­ing to do with Marie, whose respect­ful and unas­sum­ing nature belies, or is belied by, her work. My expo­sure to it had been via the Koote­nay School of Writ­ing vec­tor, a num­ber of read­ings and col­lab­o­ra­tive per­for­mances which had gone over extreme­ly well. But that was my crowd, and I knew how small that crowd can be.

Marie’s work was def­i­nite­ly chal­leng­ing — not mere­ly to main­stream lit­er­ary con­ven­tions, but also to the con­ven­tions of the oppo­si­tion­al lit­er­ary fields she would be pre­sumed to be occu­py­ing: First Nations lit­er­a­ture, and the poet­ry avant-garde. Her read­ing and writ­ing had obvi­ous­ly exposed her to a wide range of con­tem­po­rary poet­ic prac­tices, and she had picked enough of the tricks along the way to be able to play them back effec­tive­ly.

Her pol­i­tics, the pol­i­tics that emerged from her work, weren’t always easy to swal­low. Marie went way beyond the rit­u­al acknowl­edg­ment that we were on unced­ed Coast Sal­ish ter­ri­to­ry, or wher­ev­er we hap­pened to be. The unced­ed stance was embed­ded in every line of her work. Which is often laugh-out-loud fun­ny, the kind of fun­ny that comes with a price how­ev­er, a recog­ni­tion of the com­plic­i­ty inher­ent in get­ting the joke. But at the same time, a chal­lenge to the politi­cized read­er. No easy com­fort for lib­er­als to be obtained here.

Duthie’s phoned; my copy of Being On the Moon had arrived. I’d only leafed through a cou­ple of pages before I’d made my deci­sion to call Marie. Only as far as the copy­right page, in fact; because all my doubts were allayed, my courage stoked, by one lit­tle word. Reprint­ed: the most respect­ed word in pub­lish­ing.

That told me that Marie’s poems res­onat­ed not just with­in my lit­tle world, but that she had a much broad­er audi­ence. I already knew she wasn’t going to find her way onto a lot of course syl­labi, so that told me her book was sell­ing to a lot of lit­er­a­ture class­es of one and two, a book at a time, to read­ers who liked her work enough to talk about Annharte’s work. Ashamed of my doubts, I got to work with Marie on the book that would be pub­lished in ear­ly ear­ly 2003 as Exer­cis­es in Lip Point­ing (with Rebec­ca Bel­more’s cov­er). (And indeed we were reprint­ing Exer­cis­es in Lip Point­ing six months lat­er.)

More than ten years went by between Being On the Moon and Exer­cis­es in Lip Point­ing. Anoth­er ten years almost had gone by since then. Marie trav­elled some, moved to the Win­nipeg, spent time with kids and grand­kids, kept notic­ing, kept think­ing, kept writ­ing.

It was get­ting to be time for a new Annharte col­lec­tion. Col­in Smith, who hap­pens to be one of the fin­er edi­tors of poet­ry we have in the coun­try, also hap­pened to be liv­ing in Win­nipeg. That worked out nice­ly for all of us. They toiled away through­out the bet­ter part of 2012, and now we have Indi­ge­na Awry, a big book of 58 poems. Lawrence Paul Yuxwelup­tum had a great idea for a paint­ing that we thought would be a great idea for the cov­er of Annharte’s book. Hope you like it.