Bird Arsonist

Written with four hands, by Tom Prime and the Giller Prize and Governor General's Award shortlisted Gary Barwin, Bird Arsonist is avant-garde, tragicomic poetry at its most arresting.

They say the language of birds is the closest to that of the divine. They also say poetry is the unacknowledged legislator of the world. In Bird Arsonist, Tom Prime and Gary Barwin — like all good avant-gardists — flip these commonplaces on their heads, showing that poetry sets alight any transparent, easy, lawful language, or is precisely what language spits out as it turns to ash.

Compressed to the point of implosion, the poems that make up this volume are contorted descendants of Dadaism, Surrealism, and every other -ism. Prime and Barwin confront poetry's contemporary preference for confession and today's digitization of reality not only by — as they are two — using a doubled “I,” but also by letting language elide the human-all-too-human hand of authorship tout court. The author of Bird Arsonist is language itself, sonorous and fragmentary. Prime and Barwin have merely done the job of giving it the room to speak, of keeping it infected, of making visible the outline of its splinters and its cuts. Shake gently!

Miskwagoode

Taken from the Anishinaabe word for “woman,” Miskwagoode is a lyrical portrayal of unreconciled Indigenous experience under colonialism, past and present.

Annharte is Miskwa, and so is Annharte's mother, who disappeared when the author was a girl. Miskwagoode is Annharte's book about her mother loss, her “mothermiss,” about all the women “buried in common enough/ cross-generational graves.”

Laced with humour and resilience but also hard-earned wisdom (“ominous progress ahead”), Annharte's fifth collection encompasses the poet's experiences as an Anishinaabe Elder, now experiencing the still-endemic inequalities of persisting colonialism, “witness not survivor.”

In her sly, cheeky riffs on life behind the “buckskin curtain” at the margins of settler society, Annharte talks about granny circles, horny old guys, and getting your hair done — the belonging her community offers. But she sets these poems about rez life against the background radiation: the poverty and the sickness, despair, violence, sexism, and sexual abuse that flow from unequal relationships.

Miskwagoode concludes with “Wabang,” a suite of short poems comprising Annharte's own thumbnail transcontinental Indigenous mythology.