By Dane Swan
Reviewed by Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Meeting Dane Swan before absorbing his book gave me an idea of what I was going to be reading: well written poems that didn’t pull punches.
The Pugilist is an example of this. Using boxing imagery Swan writes of this fight called life, and shows the reader how everyone is in the ring and the referee isn’t always fair.
There’s no place called paradise—just graces in time, writes Swan. The ebbs and flows of a boxing match are the analogies Swan uses to illustrate the highs and lows of a person’s time on earth:
arms raised in victory
losses while dazed and confused
remembering the good times via story
returning to the gym
You could say Swan is the pugilist, as is every poet. Victory coming in the way of being published; losses via rejection letters; memories re-lived while giving a reading or talking to a young poet; the gym being the page and how a writer always returns to it.
The written jabs continue in Being Black. Swan is not beating the reader up; rather, he’s getting their attention, word by word hitting their chin: look here, pay attention, this is my story and the story of many who look like me.
Unemployment, police harassment, lynching, and being treated worse than a sex offender because of the colour of his skin, Swan is pointing out realities that some people label exaggeration and imagination. But the strength of the poem, and its challenge to racism, is when Swan points to the subtleties that are the core of Canadian racism: making someone invisible:
Being introduced five times
to someone, still
not to know you.
I feel Swan. To me he’s talking about some people inside Toronto’s literati. You could do a reading for someone (or a group), be published in a journal, or be interviewed, many times to fill in their ‘diversity’ quota, or Aboriginal person or person of colour spot, and then be ignored the next day on the street.
It happens. It’s happened to me!
Treated as ‘other’ and “outsider” is a horrible feeling. Swan mixes in personal history, politics, and activism in this poem. He shows you what many don’t see, never will see, but need to see, at least via words. All is right especially Swan’s clever and subtle definition of “home” via the use of quotations.
Being black is police harassment,
not getting jobs. An outsider
in your “home” land.
As non First Nations peoples this is not our “home”. We are treated as outsiders by the real outsiders who do so to falsely authenticate their ‘right’ to stolen land and deny their history, and present, of being outsiders. This is not their home, my home, or Swan’s home. And it’s definitely not the place of these outsiders to treat us like we don’t belong.
The way the first outsiders practice subtle racism Swan practices subtle solidarity with First Nations peoples via his use of quotations.
Swan’s craft is tight, his politics are right, and his poems take flight. He takes you on a journey as he writes about family, drink, discrimination, love, spirituality, and the most important thing in his life: poetry. Swan is a word warrior and he’s fighting the good fight.
Bending the Continuum is a short collection. But don’t be fooled, as they say, “Dynamite comes in small packages!”
Tune into Black Coffee Poet Wednesday February 6, 2013 for an inclusive interview with Dane Swan.