Simpson begins with poetic song in “under your always light” introducing a fierce landscape of struggle, strength and ancestry. In the story “Plight,” she promptly brings readers to a present-day urban neighbourhood and the worries that populate the protagonist’s mind as she tries to do something as natural as tapping a maple tree in her traditional Mississauga territory in the face of a society that labels such acts as resistance.
Simpson’s stories are full of scattered, and often, obsessive thought processes that reveal the intricacies involved in love, allyship, racism and living Anishinaabe in this colonized society. The magnetic quality to her stories pull you in to their realities, as in “Akiden Boreal.” I admit, even though I knew this was a conjured realm, I found myself Googling it. Just as she describes how Kokum’s “Nishnaabemowin seeped into our marrow” in “Seeing Through The End Of The World,” her stories seep into ours, if you let them.
Her songs conjure emotion and memory, as in, “this accident of being lost,” the title song which describes being out on the land and enveloped by it: is it our Indigenous traditions that are lost or is it that we were? In “road salt,” she stirs in me a sense of absence and longing of Anishinaabemowin and the desire to know and remember my language. Her words are staccato and full of reverence and an honouring of spirit and ceremony as she writes, “fill Her with lake & suspend Her in wet,” in such songs as “how to steal a canoe.” In “minomiinikeshii sings,” she pays homage to wild-rice harvesting and sears images and life into lost blood-memory. She does this yet again in “these two,” shaping and shifting words into sense-memory that I myself have not experienced.
In the “Notes” section where she credits Elders, writers, and artists as her inspirations she allows a deeper understanding of her process giving further context to some of her writings. Although appreciated, these notes are unnecessary to experience the more lyrical writing in this compilation. While Simpson’s writing can be at once beautiful and haunting, some of her diatribes, “22.5 Minutes” and “Airplane Mode” are disorienting and unfamiliar. But I do believe that is the point! With her words, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson allows the reader to connect with characters and speakers in a truly intimate way, injecting you into her world of Anishinaabeg stories and songs.
Katheryn Wabegijig is a 37 year old Ojibway/Odawa multi-disciplinary artist, custom picture framer, and emerging writer who grew up in the small mining town of Elliot Lake, Ontario, with ancestry in Wikwemikong, Atikameksheng Anishnawbek and belonging to Garden River First Nation/Ketegaunseebee. She graduated in 2016 with a BFA from OCAD University majoring in Drawing and Painting and minoring in Indigenous Visual Culture. Her first published piece of writing appears in The Unpublished City, an anthology curated by Dionne Brand and published by BookThug in 2017.
ARC: REACH THE END, THEN START AGAIN.