By Tara-Michelle Ziniuk
Reviewed by Jorge Antonio Vallejos
I first heard Tara-Michelle Ziniuk read at a Toronto Women’s Bookstore event five years ago. She stood confidently in front of the small crowd and read poems about sexwork and activism. Her poem about traveling to Montreal with other activists and being disappointed at their comments got me; I could relate.
When I heard Ziniuk had a book, Emergency Contact, I bought it from Toronto Women’s Bookstore the moment I saw it. “It’s really good,” said former manager Janet Romero as I admired the cover which sees Ziniuk wearing a pearl necklace and black wristbands while holding a revolver.
Two years ago while traveling in Montreal I missed Ziniuk’s launch of her then new, and second, book Somewhere To Run From by a week. “Shit!” I said to my traveling partner.
Yes, I am a fan.
A year later, January 2010, was huge for me as I was asked to read my poetry alongside Ziniuk and Eli Clare, two of my favorite poets, at an event at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. How many poets get to read alongside some of their favorite poets?
Why the fanship? Here’s a taste:
“This time it’s commemorative.
Persuasive thirty-eight-year-old men bellow
It’s for a good cause.”
(“I know it’s for a good cause.”)
Is this your way of picking up women,
or doing your daughter a favour?”
The above is from December 6 (Dufferin Station). For my non-Canadian readers, December 6th 1989 is the day 14 white women were killed in an engineering classroom at a Montreal university by a misogynist. It’s an important day to remember. I’m just as surprised as Ziniuk that pizza was being sold at Dufferin Station to raise money for stopping violence against women. The problem is that 14 white women had to die for Canada to care about violence against women. Aboriginal women, women of colour, Trans women, and sex workers don’t count. Maybe that’s why Ziniuk didn’t give a shit about pizza day at Dufferin Station.
While many gave money for December 6th without questioning the politics behind it, Ziniuk walked by a man yelling “Massacre, massacre.” Ziniuk describes the situation as “like buckets of beer for sale at a sports game.” (Reminds me of the white guy who runs the Canadian Federation of Students).
Ziniuk questions her own politics in the poem:
“Unsure if I’m supposed to feel guilty
for not contributing my bus money
or for being alive.”
No guilt needed Tara. I wouldn’t have given money. My contribution to December 6th is showing up to the vigil with the yellow sign you see at the top of this website.
In Poem for Palestine Ziniuk takes you on a ride, questions big groups that speak for Palestinians, talks about being tokenized for votes, and writes that there is no hero in the Palestinian movement. It’s bang on!
“I smashed a mug with Rachel Corrie’s face on it today.
Not because it was meaningless to me
but because today, if my grandparents had one slightly progressive friend—
not to worry because they don’t—
Lebanon wouldn’t look like a photo of Rachel Corrie’s face.”
Rachel Corrie was an American activist murdered by the Israeli army in 2003. Ziniuk, half Israeli, writes of “Talmudic genocide” and the atrocities that the state of Israel does to its neighbours and their supporters. Corrie’s smashed face is a metaphor for what is going on in the Middle East, activism, Ziniuk’s life, and how Ziniuk feels amongst activists who use her because she’s “Jewish enough just to count”. “Call me anti-semitic,” says Ziniuk, “my blood family does.”
Ziniuk’s clever use of language and interwoven critiques of movements she participates in are what make her work shine. She is way past the all too boring chants heard at rallies outside the Israeli consulate. And she is not scared of exposing truths about her family and the people she has worked with: Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Boycott Divestment campaigners etc.
Poem for Palestine ends with a Q & A session:
“Someone asks who is the, uh, Nelson Mandela of this fight,
I want to tell him
that it’s not OCAP,
not the guy we sent to that cell so many miles away,
not the U.S war photographer who sent snapshots home,
That at this rate, we may never know.”
Titled after a quote by writer Ariel Gore, Somewhere To Run From is split into two parts:
1) You’re So Pretty When You’re Faithful To me
2) You Walk Like A Healthy Meal
There are poems set in Toronto (Bloor Street Between Clinton and Christie), list poems (Leftovers From My Cancelled Party), and short, punchy poems (Cocktail).
Not only can you read Somwhere To Run From in one sitting, you’ll find yourself reading her poems over and over again running back to, and from, them.
Tune in to Black Coffee Poet Wednesday May 25, 2011 for an inclusive interview with Tara-Michelle Ziniuk.