Resistance Poetry 2: International Festival of Poetry of Resistance, Anthology 2012, Toronto
Edited by Roger Langen
Reviewed Jorge Antonio Vallejos
It’s not always that I read a book with a smile. Do you know that feeling? There’s a smile on your face, your hands grip your book tight, and you move around in your seat because of excitement.
It’s a good time.
I experienced such a good time last night while sitting on my black leather single seat couch at midnight while reading Resistance Poetry 2. It wasn’t that the poems were funny; it was more about familiarity; someone gets it! Someone gets me! I’m not alone.
Some writers argue that all poems are a form of resistance. That’s bullshit. Lots of poetry is bullshit. Resistance Poetry 2 is filled with poems that mean something, say something, and do something.
The doing being the writer leading the reader to engage in thought after each title, line, and completed poem.
Twenty-seven poets, including editor Roger Langen, fill the 71 pages that make up one of the best poetry anthologies I’ve ever read. From the first poem to the last you are taken on different journeys in places you’ve never been and might never go:
Africville, Nova Scotia
Prisons all over the United States and Canada
The Middle East
The contributors are just as diverse as the places you are taken: Indigenous poets, Latino poets, Asian poets, Black poets, and poets of the dominant class. And they all bring a different experience, interpretation, and poetic form of resistance.
No Canadian Experience by Michelle Mae Sutherland is about trying to find a job as a Black person in an anti-Black society. A certified and qualified computer programmer/ analyst working as a telemarketer, Sutherland writes of interview after interview and facing the same question that masks racism: “Do you have any Canadian experience?”
Computers are computers. Why does a programmer need Canadian experience? If you’re a person of colour you have to be better than everyone else and need years of Canadian experience just to be on even playing ground.
Overqualified, underpaid, and eventually unemployed, Sutherland writes:
heading down the street to join the homeless.
No Canadian experience = countless experiences by Canadians of colour!
In Metro West Ariel David takes you with him to the Metro West Detention Centre in Toronto. You ride in the paddywagon (police van) and feel his “privacy is strangled” as claustrophobia starts to kick in. Hypermasculinity is revealed as David sits in the hole (solitary confinement) due to talking with his fists—all part of a day in jail.
Three lines that could be a food for a much larger poem stuck with me. David writes of his blue shoes—“blue flaps—that stick to the floor. I remember those shoes and the unbreakable plastic cup that came with them when I was in the West and later the East Detention Centre.
As a Brown man I felt David because I literally have been in his shoes, those shoes, our shoes:
a sorry excuse for a shoe passed down from man to man
god only knows what stories go with them, the sad stories
originating from prison to prison.
David continues, “I’ve walked miles but ended up at the wrong place.”
Like Sutherland, you can walk and walk in this racist society and still end up nowhere. David writes of his journey, a sad journey, one that sees shoes match his feelings, ending up in a horrible place within a horrible place called “the hole”.
Veronica Eley writes of her Grey Blanket and how it travels with her in the back seat of a car as a child, in a hospital bed when she battles pneumonia, at the beach with her mom, and sadly, at the police station after being raped.
Eley’s blanket is her constant companion through the good, bad, and the ugly in her life. A grey cloth is forever loyal, at her side no matter what, keeping her warm inside and out.
Resistance Poetry 2 is a blanket in itself. The poems aren’t always nice. They aren’t about flowers and weddings, but they bring a truth that comforts, a comfort in the form of letting the reader know they are not alone and that someone cares and can relate.
Twenty –seven poets take you into their lives. Malikah Awe:ri writes “Dying Breed” a poem for Canada’s Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women; Alys Skel writes an “Ode to Mumia Abu Jamal”; Patrick Connors writes “An Open Letter To The Prime Minister”; Katherine Beeman writes a “RAP for the [Cuban] Five”; Ramon Labanino Labanino writes “Poem To A Brother” for Roberto Gonazalez; and Lisa Makarchuk writes “Lets We Fortget (A Chat With Hilary Clinton about U.S Policies)”.
Resistance Poetry 2 is a book of journeys. Whether you are on the job hunt as a Black person in an anti-Black society, or wearing sticky blue shoes in a detention centre that houses men of colour, or wrapped in a blanket through various points in your life, you are taken on a ride through verse.
Everyone has a story to tell and everyone is different. Elizabeth Hill reminds us in her poem Assumptions Are Made:
It is assumed we are all men
That we all speak English
And drive cars
And eat meat
And walk up stairs
And we go to church on Sundays
And sleep with the opposite sex
And have “flesh coloured” skin
But the reality of our world is not the assumption
And we are all better for it.
We are also better because of poetry that resists and the brave souls who write it, Resistance Poetry #2 being one part of this important whole.
Tune into Black Coffee Poet Wednesday February 27, 2013 for interviews with Resistance Poetry #2 contributors Malikah Awe:ri and Roger Langen.