By Whitney French
Reviewed By Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Have you heard the myth about writers starting to self publish because they’re not good enough to be published by publishing houses? Well, Whitney French, budding poet, and hardworking literature advocate debunks the myth with her new collection Three Cities.
Part journal, part travel log, part rant, Three Cities takes you on a tour of French’s life. What a tour it is.
Beam me up Whitney!
Split into three sections, the title is self-explanatory. French writes about Bradford, Montreal, and Toronto, the three cities she has lived in. The collection starts off with a funny book disclaimer reminiscent of the start to every Law and Order episode:
all cities in this work are fictitious.
any resemblance to a real city,
whether a thriving metropolis or a ghost town,
is purely coincidental.
unless of course you’re referring to
in which case,
yeah, they’re real.
French’s first section, Bradford Beginings Endings lets the readers know this is not fluff. There’s mention of the usual small town landscape: Tim Horton’s, BBQs, and beer. But it’s followed by a reality that many don’t know:
a woman on the bus saying coloured girl.
French shows how small town Canada has a long way to go via one sentence. Are we in the American South? No, but French does describe her home town as “a black girls nightmare” followed by a scene of “a fruit truck carrying mexican field workers home”. If you didn’t know it was Bradford you’d have USA on your mind for sure.
black in bradford follows the first poem with deeper cuts into the life of French. The poet describes being called “brownie”; white girls “afraid of the dark”; and a car pulling up and yelling the “N” word three times:
i’m not from the projects
but I’ve been in a drive-by
and the trigger of that word
made me run home scared for years.
black in bradford, filled with quotes of French’s life could be made into a Shit People Say to Blacks in Bradford YOUTUBE video:
oh, I pictured you differently
why don’t you get your hair in dreadlocks
oh I think black men are so hot
On to Montreal where French’s confession poetry takes a different route: dating white men. “You and me are nothing but chaos” opens tre. Booze, parties, and sex are written about. The poem is minimalist; there is a Bukowski element to it with its short lines, eroticism, and relationship troubles. But there is no sexist with whiskey on their breath behind the pen in tre. French writes of confusion and pain masked as love:
for a girl who’s last love
painted only in one shade,
your rainbow feels good to me.
French tells of now knowing it was a bad situation. “Rage” thought to be love, darkness covered with sex, and the sad reality of domestic violence. French courageously lets it all out, and drops the reader with a line harder than a Mike Tyson hook:
wait it out like rape
I stopped reading.
French ends with survival:
i sneak off
when you’re not looking
in search of someone else
for someone with less issues.
Now to the T-Dot where French writes of Chinatown, the DVP, the famous heat-wave, and Spadina Road. DVP ends with a beautiful line:
while the red sun saws
a cloud in half
making one, two
so you’re walking through chinatown is a tour on paper. Through twelve stanzas French perfectly describes a part of town that is central to Toronto. Dried fish, carts of fruit, bootleg DVDs, vendors yelling, and the smell of food everywhere makeup French’s vignette. But there is more. French weaves her own Jamaican heritage in: ackee and cerasse. The poet writes for her own mixed ancestry and people calling her “china man pickney”. Thoughts and memories flood French’s mind having her “walk out of Chinatown” and giving us this poem.
French’s new, self-published, collection is about more then three cities. Race, relationships, colonization, ignorance, human hurt, survival, and the many good and bads of life grace the pages of Three Cities. The young poet takes you on a journey, her own French Riviera, the life of a Black woman in transit betweet three Canadian cities:
from bradford to toronto
from toronto to montreal
from montreal to bradford
from bradford to montreal
from toronto to bradford
from montreal to toronto
and back again.
Tune into Black Coffee Poet Wednesday February 6, 2012 for an inclusive interview with Whitney French.
Appropriate considering it is Black History Month in Ontario. I’d love to read the book.
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Of course I find the Toronto bits particularly seductive (having fallen in love with this city as a relative newcomer) but I like the idea of comparing/contrasting the other landscapes with that experience. Sounds very good!
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