For the Changing Moon

Canadian Literature 239 (2020): 131-132
Bodies and Languages

Reviewed by Sarah Dowling

In her preface to Gwen Benaway’s new book Holy Wild, Anishinaabe visual artist Quill Christie-Peters writes, “exploring the relationship I have to my body is challenging and painful within a settler colonial project that continues to organize itself through the violence of cis-heteropatriarchy.” Christie-Peters’ three critical terms—body, settler colonial, and cis-heteropatriarchy—illuminate Benaway’s poems, which explore the difficulty and the beauty of life as an Indigenous trans woman in English and in Anishinaabemowin. These terms are also useful for reading two other recent collections: Ali Blythe’s Hymnswitch and Anna Marie Sewell’s For the Changing Moon: Poems and Songs. Read together, the three collections offer provocative insights into the ways in which our relationships to language and to our very bodies are shaped by settler colonialism and its cis-heteropatriarchal sex-gender system. . .

Like [Benaway’s] Holy Wild, Sewell’s For the Changing Moon moves beyond standard English, drawing upon the resources of Lnuisi, French, Spanish, Cree, Anishinaabemowin, and numerous nonstandard Englishes in order to renew the material of poetic expression. In each of the book’s five sections, one of the poems is about a chickadee learning Anishinaabemowin from “a virtual dictionary / left online to reach back to the broken lines of human teachers.” In addition to pushing beyond the limits of language-as-usual, Sewell exceeds the speech-based rhythms that characterize so much contemporary lyric poetry. Her book, after all, collects poems “and songs”: some pieces specify particular chord progressions or tempos for live performance. In attending to the distinctive rhythms of different languages and in evoking aurality through frequent references to music, Sewell emphasizes the physical, somatic grounding of our relationships to language. Highlighting the “broken lines” that divide communities, her poems challenge readers to forge new connections in defiance of settler colonialism: “In the face of this monstrous pity renew the call: / All hail the molecular divine / conjugal marvel of life.” Many of Sewell’s poems explicitly demand action, offering another means of taking poems off the page. Like Benaway and Blythe, Sewell demands this transgression not only in service of art but also in service of life.

— Sarah Dowling

http://canlit.ca/article/bodies-and-languages/
 

 RICHARD LEMM WEBSITE, MARCH 21, 2019


Anna Marie Sewell: Poetry – Water Flowing with Names
By Richard Lemm

A poet, storyteller, musician-songwriter, and collaborative performer, Anna Marie Sewell was born in Fredericton, and is of Mi’kmaq, Anishinaabe, and Polish heritage. Lee Ellen and I met Anna Marie, a long-time Alberta resident, when she was Edmonton’s Poet Laureate in 2011-2013 and beginning a community project, The PoemCatcher.

Lee Ellen was touring the country for the Canadian Capital Cities Organization in preparation for Canada’s celebration of its 150th anniversary, and I was tagging along on one of her western jaunts. Anna Marie was the highlight of our Edmonton visit – a radiant spirit with a hugely loving and grateful heart, and a sweet wisdom and warm sense of humour to match her muscular devotion to justice and opposition to iniquity. In our short time with her, we felt blessed to meet one of those people who make you feel that we humans can and do survive and triumph over malevolence. Not often enough, obviously, but sufficiently often to keep our faith in humanity intact and sometimes soaring.

That’s how I felt again as I read her new, second poetry collection, For the Changing Moon, from Thistledown Press in Saskatchewan. There are poems, such as the powerful “Omiimiikaa – Place of the Wild Dove,” focusing on the extinction of the passenger pigeon and corresponding violence against Indigenous women, in which the poet faces greed, malice, ignorance, and wanton destruction head-on. But there are other poems, such as the masterful “Knit” – dedicated “To our Elders, with respect…” – in which she solemnly celebrates the struggle, often painful, often joyous, to nurture one’s children, protect one’s people, and be part of the renaissance of one’s culture. In “Knit” she writes of unravelling “knots between when we come into this world sacred / and sacred take our leave.”

And there is Anna Marie’s wonderfully playful, inventive vision, as in “Kinds of Moon,” a longer poem I can’t help but quote at length:

“The moon by which your eyes are endless
pinwheel portals to whole other galaxies…”

“Moon of teen brothers, college girl moon, moon of wolves
and of taxicabs”

“Moon of lozenges, homeopathic moon, moon for injections”

“Moon of the wealthy, uptown moon, home-schooled
unbound homebrew moon…”

“The moon on your shoulder
that one you carried, and the moon
trolling your wake…”

There’s the heart-breaking yet also inspiring “She Sang,” a love poem for her sister, who “sang in Carnegie Hall, a farmgirl / halfbreed, singlehandedly talked producers into / adding five Indigenous women to the bill of an / international choral festival….” And there’s Anna Marie’s bitingly satirical voice as in “Shape Shifting”: “Real Indians, the shape-shifting kind, they’re gone / now, if they ever were more than fantasy….” This poem is also a reverent tribute to her father, a “shape-shifter” who was part of the Métis Delegation to Ottawa in 1982 that helped secure the constitutional entrenchment of the Métis as a People:

“Disenfranchised Anishinaabe, orphaned Mi’gmaq, church
school survivor went working in the bush, broke a leg and
turned into a guitarist. Singer, trainer, teacher, army sergeant
farmer, trucker, taught himself mover’s physics
and Robert’s Rules of Order.”

She includes the lyrics of several songs, for instance “Lakesong,” which begins, “I have outlasted the cynical, who’ve outlasted their fear / And seen the tough boys opening up and shed their honest tears.” Her poems are talismans against cynicism and to help us with our fears. Her poems also make invite and urge us to rejoice: “Perhaps the moon does not reflect voiced joys, but / refracts them, into a radiant plenty without regard for distance.”

I’ll leave you with two more lines, from “Start Making Sense”:

“this is no empty land, and underground
the water flows with names, with names.”

These poems are water flowing with names.

— Richard Lemm

https://richardlemm.wordpress.com/2019/03/21/anna-marie-sewell-poetry-water-flowing-with-names/


SASKBOOKS, JANUARY 20, 2019

I’d been looking forward to multi-disciplinary artist Anna Marie Sewell’s second poetry collection, For the Changing Moon. She’d impressed with her debut, Fifth World Drum, and in her capacity as Edmonton’s poet laureate, I once observed her deliver an outstanding performance poem she’d created on the spot, based on a few words provided by the audience. It was a kind of magic few possess.

In Sewell’s newly-released collection of poems (and songs) we again find an assured and original voice, and the kind of literary abracadabra (ie: superb use of line breaks) only a skilled writer can pull off. “We are in large part composed of slanting/sun” she writes in “The Mortal Summer.” Sometimes playful, sometimes prayerful, sometimes angry, sometimes tinged with grief (particularly for lost family members and for injustices suffered by First Peoples and the impoverished) or inspired by legend, these eclectic pieces prove that Sewell knows her way around language, the map, and the moon.

Each of the book’s five sections contains a kind of moon, i.e., “Moon of Wolves,” and among my favourite poems is “Kinds of Moon,” in which Sewell introduces us to moons not usually (or ever?) considered, i.e., “the moon of marching activists,” the “moon of skin diseases,” and the “insipid little moon of tailored grass.” What fun to read.

Of the several poems honouring the memories of loved ones, including the poet’s sister, this homage to a mother stands out: “She is tiny now, my mother/and jokes in the morning, when/her teeth aren’t in, how she whistles/like a little bird.” Inspiration also comes from disparate people and places, i.e., Sewell’s poem “Start Making Sense” provides a twist on David Byrne’s “Stop Making Sense,” and the gorgeous lines “so much turns on the breath of fog/falling over a broad green stream” —from her piece “One Moon, Many Faces”—echo William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow.”

There’s much clever internal rhyme and plays on words, i.e., “Streets of Seoul, Sewell seule,” and there’s even a musicality in how these poems were ordered. For example, in “Bush-whacking,” the riverside-hiking children “pipe and flutter, unconsciously magpie,” and later they “shriek and whimper.” The next poem is delectably quiet: it’s based on how light falls upon six small cups on a windowsill. Holy dynamics. I also see this louder/quieter pairing in the neighbouring poems “She Sang” (about a wounded, musical sister) and “Light on the Wings,” which, among other things, praises red ash berries.

The multi-lingual inclusions (i.e., Spanish and Anishinaabemowin) and named communities (i.e., Edmonton, Lake Chapala, Kyoto) revere the places and people the Alberta poet’s connected to, both spiritually and ancestrally.

This fine collection deserves close reading. It’s a haven for all those who, like the poet, wander and wonder beneath the chameleon moon on “Turtle Island.” There are no answers regarding the big why-of-it-all, but the poet/lyricist has “built a room/safe for the moon/to come home to” and “it has to be enough.” I say it is enough. It is very enough indeed.

— Shelley A. Leedahl

https://reviews.skbooks.com/for-the-changing-moon/

CANADIAN LITERATURE  #239, FEBRUARY 2020

... [Anna Marie] Sewell’s For the Changing Moon moves beyond standard English, drawing upon the resources of Lnuisi, French, Spanish, Cree, Anishinaabemowin, and numerous nonstandard Englishes in order to renew the material of poetic expression. In each of the book’s five sections, one of the poems is about a chickadee learning Anishinaabemowin from “a virtual dictionary / left online to reach back to the broken lines of human teachers.” In addition to pushing beyond the limits of language-as-usual, Sewell exceeds the speech-based rhythms that characterize so much contemporary lyric poetry. Her book, after all, collects poems “and songs”: some pieces specify particular chord progressions or tempos for live performance. In attending to the distinctive rhythms of different languages and in evoking aurality through frequent references to music, Sewell emphasizes the physical, somatic grounding of our relationships to language. Highlighting the “broken lines” that divide communities, her poems challenge readers to forge new connections in defiance of settler colonialism: “In the face of this monstrous pity renew the call: / All hail the molecular divine / conjugal marvel of life.” Many of Sewell’s poems explicitly demand action, offering another means of taking poems off the page. ...Sewell demands this transgression not only in service of art but also in service of life.

Reviewed by Sarah Dowling

http://canlit.ca/article/bodies-and-languages/