A Really Good Brown Girl / Marilyn Dumont
London: Brick Books, 2016, c1996.
This reprint in the Brick Books Classics series is such a gem. I never did read it in its original incarnation, so was pleased to see it in this new series.
This new edition has an introduction by Lee Maracle and an afterword by Marilyn Dumont, which adds to the context of these poems from their original appearance in the 90s to our current setting.
But these poems really do stand on their own. Dumont's Metis heritage infuses this collection, with a set called "Squaw Poems":
“I am in a university classroom, an English professor corrects my
spoken/ English in front of the class. I say, “really good.” He say,
“You mean/ really well, don’t you?” I glare at him and say emphatically,
“No I/ mean really good.” (from Memoirs of a Really Good Brown Girl)
or from The White Judges:
"At supper eleven of us would stare down a pot of/ moose stew, bannock and tea, while outside the white judges sat/ encircling our house.
And they waited to judge/ "
And also another set, "White Noise", talking about a different vantage point.
"There/ are times when I feel that if I don’t have a circle or the number
four/ or legend in my poetry, I am lost, just a fading urban Indian…” (from Circle the Wagons)
"I say I'm Metis like it's an/ apology, and he says, "Mmh," like he forgives me, like he's got a big/ heart and mine's pumping diluted blood..." (from Leather and Naugahyde)
The poems in this book express her experiences passionately, and she talks about writing them, in her afterword. She mentions that many of them were written in the 80s, while she was reading many other Indigenous authors from across the world as well as black American women writers. All of these fed into this collection, as she created "expressions of confusion, sadness, hurt, anger and rage" hoping that it would free other Indigenous women to express their lives as well.
It's a beautiful collection, with sections that may make non-Indigenous readers uncomfortable at times, questioning our own assumptions and understandings. But also enlightening and engaging for a reader like me. There was one poem that I found particularly lovely in the way it describes what a book can do for us. From Horsefly Blue:
"doesn't this light remind you of all those other times
you looked up from your reading
and were expecting to see
change and nothing
did change except the way
you looked, the way you met the light,
greeted it at the door as a friend
or smiled at it from a distance as your lover?"
I loved this book, and read it all in one big gulp, then went back to revisit it. There is so much in it to look at again and again. I'll close with one haunting image, in an excerpt from a poem that says so much with so few words, The Sound of One Hand Drumming:
"the small single words
of brown women hang on
clotheslines stiff in winter and
thaw only in early spring but
no one takes them off the line because
no one wants last year's clothes,
they're the wrong colour and out of fashion and
if dead white men stopped writing for one thousand years and
only brown women wrote
that wouldn't be enough..."
I'm glad Brick Books reissued this classic so that I could finally read it.