By Sharron Proulx-Turner
Reviewed by Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Two-Spirit Metis poet Sharron Proulx-Turner writes, “I am humbled by the women and girls in my world”, in the intro to her third collection of poems she is reading her blanket with her hands. I am humbled by Proulx and the way she writes; the titles she comes up with; the way she infuses different Aboriginal languages in her poetry; the way she makes her culture shine on every page.
The first page you see once opening the book foretells the following 81 pages: transparency. Proulx lets the reader know who she is, what she believes, and why she writes:
“I’m told my great-grandmother rosina lafrance-proulx, was a poet, that she talked to the trees, to the plants and animals. and now she talks to me.”
A common criticism of literature is that it does not speak to the reader. Turner not only speaks, she sings on the page. At times she whispers. Many times it feels like she’s in your kitchen sipping tea with you. One thing is for sure Turner always has the reader’s attention.
muskiki-ah-won-ah-hey-ney, the first poem in the collection, is dedicated to George Blondeau (white buffalo) 1951-2003. It starts off with a song, has you driving with her, recounts her friendship with Blondeau, and ends with a song. The poem is circular, from the heart, and giving. Starting off her collection with a dedication shows the kind of person and poet Turner is. It’s not about her. Her poems are not self-absorbed. They are for others; those they are dedicated to, and those that read them.
Mixing prose, verse, and song, Turner honours Blondeau in the best way she knows how: on the page. The piece for Blondeau is part song, poem, and journal entry. And one-hundred percent love:
“george’s death is hard for me to accept. I don’t feel anger towards george or the deer or the motorbike or the mountain or the rock. I feel robbed of george’s presence in my life. I know he’s here in a new & profound way, but my eyes witness the beauty of the trees, my ears, my body, my heart wants to revive his songs,” writes Turner. Not only does she revive them, she shares them. Although the reader may not know Blondeau, his memory and songs carry on every time someone opens “she is reading her blanket with her hands”.
Much of the collection is a journey. You travel with Turner to Kamloops, Wasauksing First Nation, the prairies, Petawawa, Vancouver… Turner turns travel writing on its head. She uses verse as well as prose. Famous writers like Bruce Chatwin are known for their travel essays and books that are described as “poetic”. Turner skips that stage and writes straight up poems to share where she’s been, what she’s seen, and what she’s learned. It was a whole new experience for me to read travel writing like this. As was the point with starting this magazine I learned from Turner; a big thanks to her!
Not only are her poems beautiful, you are struck by the beauty of her titles before you get into what the poems are about. Turner is unconventional in her titles. There is a spirit to them. They are teachings. Some can be used as affirmations. Others are prayers unto themselves. They are from the heart and can’t be taught; Turner lets her pen leak what she feels on the page:
the intimacy of bark growing inside quiet rain
hers was the hand of a woman
eye inside eye & the underbelly of the moon
your wind a song & deep inside the hand hills
his eyes the colour of voice
east of moon & west of sun & birthed from river rain
waves on the water & a talking north wind
anxiety of influence is not only a poem with a title that is different and one that I like it is about a topic close to my heart and Turner’s: stopping violence against women. Turner dedicates the poem to the 14 white women murdered in Montreal in 1989 at Polytechnique and the 27 Aboriginal women found murdered on Picton’s farm in 2007. Split in 10 parts (colonization, education, artifact, psychology, philosophy, democracy, hypocrisy, mythology, prayersong, memory), Turner uses prose to explore and critique the state of violence against women that exists in Canada. Part history, protest, education, honouring, and prayer, anxiety of influence is productive anger as opposed to corrosive anger found in much ranting disguised as poetry.
anxiety of influence starts with “inferiorizaion. that’s us. the female.” In democracy she writes:
“a provincial inquiry in Manitoba reveals that
police have long been aware of white men
preying on native women and girls. the police
were quoted saying they did not feel that the
practice necessitated any particular vigilance.
saddle up, men and boys.”
In hypocrisy Turner writes:
“case no. 1. helen betty Osborne. 19. cree first nation. brutally raped
and slaughtered by 4 white men. 4 x 4 and 16 years to bring the
men to trial. horseshoes up the ass.”
memory ends the poem of protest, education, and prayer:
“dear diary: this is my standpoint. still.
as metis woman: orfice. clitoris. minora. labia majora.
as poet: blood. breasts. bones.
empowered. firepowered. because I remembered to remember. us.
women: we are. our children are. our lands are. our houses are. still.
anxiety of influence is a much need poem. It gets the reader thinking. It talks history, theory, pschology, colonization and more. Although Turner talked about Helen Betty Osborne and police apathy toward violence against Aboriginal women in Winnipeg, I think Turner could have pointed out the differences between Aboriginal women and women of colour from white women in Canada. The end of the poem, “women: we are” puts all women on the same grid. That’s not the case, evidence is how media, government, and police gave much attention to the Jane Creba killing, and do nothing in terms of the 800+ Missing and Murdered Aboriginal women/womyn in Canada, and the many murders of women/womyn of colour.
Turner titled her book she is reading her blanket with her hands. Many times throughout the collection I felt like I was reading Turner’s poems as she held me. There is an embrace that happens once you open the book. Your eyes hit the pages that are opening a door to Turner’s past, present, and what she wants as a future. You are warmed by the blanket written of in the book’s title during the chilling stories that are recounted. You are hugged during the rough and tough parts in the book. You are sung to as you turn from poem to poem. Just as Turner’s grandmothers were with her during her writing, Turner is your abuela, kokum, nokomis, grandma while you read her book.
Tune in to Black Coffee Poet June 15, 2011 for an interview with 2-Spirit Metis writer Sharron Proulx-Turner.