by Lee Maracle
Reviewed by Jorge Antonio Vallejos
This is a celebration! It’s been one year now that blackcoffeepoet.com has been online.
Who better to celebrate with than one of my mentors, my writing mom—Lee Maracle.
“Writing is about re-writing,” says Maracle.
Writing is also about reading, discipline, and being humble.
With one collection of poems to her name, Bent Box, the acclaimed author says, “I don’t consider myself a terrific poet.”
I beg to differ.
Poetry is song and Bent Box sings to the reader throughout its 128 pages.
A lover of short poems, Maracle uplifts people’s spirits with Victory:
No hurt burns my spirit
No pain thirsts my eyes
No lies poison my mind
I’ve read this poem during down times, repeated it to myself orally, and I’m actually thinking of putting it on a t-shirt.
Once known as the biggest activist in Canada, Maracle’s poems live up to that label. Although Maracle is originally from here, Turtle Island, the land now known as Canada, she does not focus solely on the struggles of Native peoples on her land.
Many poems in Bent Box are dedicated to, and about, peoples in other places who face similar oppression to the original peoples of North America:
Referring to Nicaragua as “Another Vietnam”, Maracle writes of a war that no one really knows about, talks about, writes about. Calling out former President of the U.S Ronald Reagan, Maracle writes, “The mercenaries of Senor Reagan” in Bring The Boys Home.
Aren’t American mothers wanting their boys to come home again, 20 years later?
Aren’t American mothers always wanting their boys to come home? Today, daughters too need to come home.
Maracle was bang on when calling it another Vietnam. There have been many Vietnams since, with more mercenaries under the hand of different presidents.
Maracle ends Bring The Boys Home with:
Easy come easy go; that is the slogan
that the children of America prefer.
Have things changed?
El Salvador saw another secret war in the 1980s. Maracle honours the Indigenous women of El Salvador in her poem El Salvador—Vencera:
Senor America! You are blind!
You do not see our ancestors,
our grandmother’s copper-gold faces
and waist length black hair…
You do not see our Mujeres
The trunk of our sacred tree…
It is we who hear the voices
—of our ancestors
educating us to our mistakes
—ensuring your demise
Like most Indigenous nations women are at the centre. They are the lifegivers. Maracle makes connections in this poem that are much needed. The same way that Senor America is blind to the original peoples of Canada and the U.S, he is blind to the original peoples of down south and those who came from them, the Mestizaje (mixed race peoples–Indigenous and Spanish–like me).
Did you know that Chile saw mass murders in the 1970s and 80s? Activists were rounded up and killed by the thousands. Maracle not only knows this, she stood in solidarity with them: “We sit around the circle of Chilean fires,” starts her poem Outside The Circle of Chilean Fires.
Her wisdom shines in the poem:
If there is murder against innocent youth
it is because there is power among the people.
Women is an ode to brown women of a different land that has been stolen: Palestine.
Palestinian women rock baby cradles
to the rhythm of US/Israeli bombs
while dessert winds tear at tipis
and sand blasts the face of water bearers.
This poem is again about solidarity. Palestinian mothers caring for their children amongst colonial attacks. Maracle writes “tipis” as opposed to tents recognizing Palestinians as the Indigenous peoples of the land now known as Israel. Water being life, and women creating life, is why Maracle writes “water bearers” in the stanza.
Maracle explores the importance of hands, work, who gets what and why, later in the poem. Some hands do what they need to do for survival while others enjoy what many never get to experience:
The streets of Can-America
are flooded only with shoppers
ready to buy…buy…buy…
In underground workshops
built by humble hands
women work through the night
to create weapons for Palestine.
The feminine hands of Can-America
greedily eat Israeli oranges
Palestinian children have never seen.
Maracle writes honour poems to Nelson Mandela (Mister Mandela) and Leonard Peltier (Leonard) brining her spirituality to both poems and both men:
I treasure this eagle of resistance
couching you and Leonard in each wing.
There are poems dedicated to Maracle’s mother and children.
Much love is seen throughout the Bent Box. Love for land, people, struggle, and freedom.
Maracle not only shows confidence, balance, and exerience, she shows her vulnerable side too. A good writer opens them self up to their reader. Performing, which starts the collection, seesMaracle brings her reader in close, having them hold her words as they sing in their ear. It’s the perfect way to end this review and start a new year on blackcoffeepoet.com:
I shudda got n’ Oscar
for all the lies I told,
all the masks I wore…
But they don’t give
Indian women Oscars
for dressin like Vogue Magazine
I speak brocken
Tune in to BlackCoffeePoet.com Wedensday September 14, 2011 for a written dialogue about poetry between Lee Maracle and Brazilian academic Rubelise de Cunha.