November 15, 2019

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Book Review: ‘Inquiries’ by Métis Poet Michelle Porter

Book Review: ‘Inquiries’ by Métis Poet Michelle Porter

Metis poet Michelle Porter believes all poetry is inquiry. A journalist by trade, and an academic by training (she holds a PhD in Geography from Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador), Porter’s debut poetry collection, Inquiries (Breakwater 2019), beautifully illustrates how she questions herself, her place, and her family through the poetic, and brings us all back to the river.

“The title Inquiries was a perfect fit for me. It fit the journalistic and academic approach I am increasingly taking to my poetry and began with this first book,” says Porter. “Poetry is a method of inquiry for me – until I’ve written about it, I don’t know at thing.

“In this book I chose to investigate, to interrogate, my history and my mother’s history, and my future, to find out how they connect, what they mean, what stories fall out.”

As a citizen of the Metis Nation and member of the Manitoba Metis Federation, Porter has been based in St. John’s, Newfoundland for the past decade. No stranger to living a life of constant migration, her fragmented narratives and displacement comes together in her brilliant debut Inquires. Poems like “Whiteway Street, 2008,” “Tessier Place, 2012-2014,” “Colonial Street, 2009,” “Home, 2017, King’s Road,” and “Colonial Street, 2010,” chart some of the many postal codes these poems hold.

“The journey I took in writing this poetry book was to look at the connection that is present in disconnection. It asked me to look at motherhood and the struggles of mothering in today’s settler world, my personal struggles and my mother’s struggles.”

Inquires is thought-provoking in its ability to question, yet reads deeply personal. Lee Maracle describes the work as “a new old book,” which speaks to Porter’s powerful capabilities as a writer, thinker, and poet.

Porter’s poetics carry old world wisdom, in moments the teachings of Elders, and fuses contemporary poetic strategies.

Maracle is right, this a new old book.

Inquiries is new in the way it presents disconnection as a means of connection, and ancient its ability to guide and persevere. In her work, Porter invites readers to see from the vantage point of mother, grandmother, daughter, and ultimately, asks us to look within, and find our rivers.

“Recently in my life I’ve needed to understand and explore my life and, I suppose, self in all its incomplete fragments. But it’s also that I moved around so much growing up that a narrative form just couldn’t hold that kind of fragmentation,” says Porter.

“These poems tell stories about the fragments of places that have stayed with me and with my mother. It is only poetry that could hold both the story and the fragment so completely—and so incompletely.

Michelle Porter

Inquires begins with the poem, “Of The Red,” where the adult speaker of the poem returns home to an ancient Red River. Porter writes, “You have been gone so long,/ your silted days lived in exile, your/ nights lost in the black fringe/ of a continent’s memory.” Through repetition, the chorus-like lines, “ma soeur, ma mere, my/ heart, my bones, my blood,” embody the speaker’s desire to return to the river.

Serving as a book end, “Childhood, Remembered,” is the collection’s final poem, and circles back to the river, where we meet the speaker in her youth. Porter writes, “as a girl/ she could turn into a river./ when she wanted to get away from here/ and go there, she only had to lay down/ and lean into the easiest route./ the going and arriving happened all at once.”

As the poem, “Childhood, Remembered,” suggests, Porter recalls the days when she could turn into the river as a girl. How she spent all her days on the land, in the water, and playing deep in the woods. The river was her home, the river was her. It’s where her life was, and where her relations lived. This poem brings readers back in time –through memory and meaning –and invites us to honour, reflect and become the river.

“It’s a poem about the river-self inside all of us, this river of memory and intention always flowing on and how we are never really leaving our past, even while we’re always, always heading into a future we don’t ever really get to,” says Porter. “It’s also, quite simply, about the magic of being a child when time is always collapsing in upon itself and about moving around and how places collapse in on themselves too and you are always recognizing the places you’ve been and the places you will be in the places you are.”

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About The Author

Shannon Webb-Campbell

Shannon Webb-Campbell is a mixed settler-Indigenous (Mi’kmaq) poet, writer, and critic. Her first book, Still No Word (2015) was the inaugural recipient of Egale Canada’s Out In Print Award. She was Canadian Women In the Literary Arts Critic-in-Residence in 2014 and defended Bearskin Diary by Carol Daniels for CBC Radio’s Turtle Island Reads in 2017. She currently sits on CWILA’s Board of Directors

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