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.