Book Review: The Kingdom and After


Megan Fernandes, 78 pgs, Tightrope Books, $19.95 

This debut collection by Megan Fernandes takes the reader on a surreal post-colonial journey where she unearths vivid images of the many people she encounters, witnesses, or dreams about.

In the standout poem “Queens”, she discusses a visit to Mumbai, where she meets the Hijra — a word which refers to a tradition of transgender women in India. I was able to envision the outstretched hands of Hijra as they beckon her into their corners with promises of intrigue or sensuality. Fernandes writes, “I say, Leave me. I know what you do with little boys behind blue-rutted buses.” Despite the played-up magic and exoticism, there are difficult complexities to this encounter swirling together in a moment of high tension. In its enactment or its utterance, this moment, real or imagined, addresses gender, race, colonialism, power, and beauty all at once.

Fernandes’ varied collection must be read as such, as the stylistic and emotional motions ebb and swell to shape a narrative, fractured but intuitively legible, particularly for me as a diasporic reader. Through skillful metaphors, sometimes unnerving imagery, and tentative literary antidotes to political pain, Fernandes creates moments of bliss throughout the complicated and sticky journey upon which she embarks. She’s taken time to imagine new ways of navigating broken and layered terrains, and I would highly recommend it. (Naomi B)

Book Review: For Your Own Good


Leah Horlick, 96 pgs, Caitlin Press,, $18 

Leah Horlick was 19 years old when her girlfriend first sexually assaulted her. This violent relationship bred trauma, shame, and more abusive partners. For years, Leah feared talking about the abuse in the face of callous rebukes (“it’s not like she hit you”) and an internal voice that worried about what the admittance of abuse in a queer relationship would do to the reputation of the community. She searched for support literature in the queer community for survivors of abuse and came up empty-handed. And so Leah wrote. She wrote for herself and for other queer survivors of partner abuse. The result is For Your Own Good, a brave and heartbreaking work of self-realization and ultimately self-love.

The poems wind and swell their way through the firsts of a new relationship into the dark corners of control, abuse, denial and ultimately survival. The first cycle, “Vanishing Act,” charts the joys and fears of discovery. The lines are taut and clever, “Your mouth is for lipstick and thumb for hitchhiking, never/ at the same time.” Others gentle and nostalgic, “You are still among the firsts, trying/yes, and women, and each other.”

By the next two cycles, the darkness of the relationship has emerged and dominates. The struggle to admit what was going on charges the poems with a unrelenting struggle — a terrible Catch 22: “If she hurt you enough for you to leave,/she wouldn’t have to be one. One of them./ You. But you stayed, and she’s still one of them.” It isn’t until the fourth cycle “Descent” that the word rape appears. Shortly after, Horlick writes, “Dinosaur/ vertebrae — like you, something so old, and so big, once/ I can hardly believe it existed.”

In putting into words the depth and density of trauma suffered by queer victims of rape and sexual abuse, Horlick refuses to let suffering go unnoticed nor crimes unspoken. She does not, as she once feared, betray the queer community, but rather raises a hand in solitary calling for safety, love and respect for all. (Megan Clark)

Syrus Marcus Ware in conversation with Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha

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Panel image from “Black August” by Syrus Marcus Ware. Image courtesy of the artist.

Editor’s Note: “The Smell of Our Own” is a new column in Broken Pencil where we enlist an artist we love to interview another artist (working in a different medium) to discuss their creative processes, inspirations, challenges and other cool stuff!

by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha 

I met Syrus Marcus Ware in 2000, when we were baby queer of color artist activists. He was working at the University of Toronto’s Women and Trans Centre at the time. Fifteen years later, he is someone who is central to queer and trans Black cultural and activist work in the city. Syrus is the ultimate Taurus QTPOC arts genius. I had a chance to sit down with him and talk about the nine million marvelous things he is working on.

Leah: You’re a genius! Tell me about some of the cultural productions you have been working on lately that you are most excited about.

Syrus: Thank you Leah! I’ve been busy this year doing a bunch of different projects:
I’ve been drawing large scale portraits of black activists for installation at Jess Dobkin’s Chester Artist’s Newsstand in celebration of Black August and working with other disabled, sick and crazy artists through the Performance.Disability. Art.(PDA) Collective on a disability arts showcase at the Newsstand. This summer I shot footage at the Twinsburg, OH Twins Days Festival because I’m also making a short film about being an identical twin. (It was amazing being there with thousands of twins all in one place!) It’s been a busy summer, but joyously so!

L: What was your pathway to becoming a visual artist? And how do you see your visual artwork relating to your work as a DJ, prison justice organizer, Black queer/ trans and disability justice organizer, and curator?

S: I was always interested in pursuing art as a full-time gig. I’ve done lots of different kinds of creative practices, including arts admin, curating, hosting community radio, etc. But I’ve also continued to make my own work and develop projects about my lived experiences as a black, disabled, queer, identical twin, parent, and activist.

Book Review: The Bodies


Calvin White, 158 pgs, Now or Never Publishing,, $17.95 

Calvin White has put together a sizable collection of what he calls “political poems,” though they could just as easily be called “activist poems.” This is not an issue in and of itself, but he takes care to address topics ranging from global warming to animal abuse, Nagasaki to self-harm, American politics to Canadian Indigenous issues. White fires a scattershot into the social-justice blogosphere, pulls back every topic he can, and comes across disingenuous as a result.

With such a range of unrelated topics, and such heat behind every issue, the only possible theme connecting the poems found within The Bodies is the opinion that “things certainly are terrible nowadays, aren’t they?” These poems are often beautiful in their depictions of the natural world, but only ever in an effort to show what has been lost or abused, either literally or allegorically. It all results in poetry at an arm’s length — poetry that cannot reach its writer, no matter how skilled he may be, because it is not written by him but by his infallible idealism.

Take, for example, this representative quote from “Something to Remember,” where the narrator muses over the things he’d do if he had a handgun: “feel overwhelmed by the way absurdity / and arrogance seems to rule / how gadgets have replaced communion / how empty and primitive it’s all become / cops lying and shooting / politicians lying and spending to kill / no one thinking deeply / no one questioning / no one in power caring if they do” . White’s stances are difficult to disagree with, and don’t ask their reader to question himself or a new point of view. Nagasaki was bad. Animal abuse is bad. Global Warming is bad. Worthwhile political poetry needs to take additional steps beyond this realization. (Joel W. Vaughan)

Book Review: Blind Items

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Dina Del Bucchia, Insomniac Press, 85 pgs,, $16.95 

Dina Del Bucchia is the kind of poet who habitually takes the sweet fluff of life — gossip columns, mullets, fashion pages, chick flicks — and unravels it into surreal, confusing, and surprisingly cogent work. This particular collection is made up of “blind item” and tell-all confessional style poems about encounters with celebrities that spiral into the trashy, the neon, the postmodern, and, most consistently, the raunchy.

“I am fucking Lindsay Lohan in the back of a pickup truck,” the collection begins, deceptively punchy for the varyingly subtle, critical, and gonzo humour that courses through most of these poems. Bill Murray is as jarringly smooth as you’d expect: “I push his face into me, assist in his artistic growth. In gasps, I realize the flesh can produce a punchline.” Britney has a sloppy night out. There aren’t many words for an encounter with R. Kelly, but two of them are “salty” and “cocaine.”

I get the impression that this voice, however speculative, belongs honestly to Del Bucchia; a smart girl living in a moneyed-up hyperreality, choosing to allow herself to dive deeper into our shiny celeb-o-sphere rather than come up for air. The strangeness of the situations is delightfully unnerving, and unexpected word choices and imagery remind the reader that celebrities we almost consider friends, or at least familiar, are distant creatures elaborating made up worlds.

In anticipation of her recent release with Daniel Zomparelli (another po-mo fun poetry darling from Vancouver) on the theme of rom-coms, Dina Del Bucchia continues to delight as she elaborates this particular style of pop culture pushed through a poetic fun house mirror. (Jonathan Valelly)

Book Review: Theatre of the Unimpressed

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Jordan Tannahill, 160pgs, Coach House Books,, $14.95 

Jordan Tannahill starts with the precepts that many other books might have concluded with: theatre and its institutions are boring, ugly enough to repel would-be theatregoers after just one or two bad experiences, dry enough that we resent plays as something we ought to attend but would rather not. Widely proclaimed as being Canadian’s theatre’s youthful hope, Tannahill takes on the question of what it’s going to take to put some life back into the medium he loves.

Through various chapters and sections about the old guard (“Boredom”, “Museum Theatre” and “The Well-Made Play”) and work that is getting it right (“Liveness” and “Falling on Our Faces”), Tannahill writes a manifesto for a radically new stage. “To make truly relevant and urgent theatre in the twenty-first century, we must re-examine, and, in many cases, dismantle, much of what we have been beholden to over the last century (or more),” he declares. “Because if we do not, the Theatre of the Unimpressed is here to stay.”

The kind of living, transformative, “vital” theatre that Tannahill calls for uses the here-and-nowness of live performance as its foundation, celebrating and exploiting the spectre, and sometimes reality, of failure and radical contingency.

Tannahill looks often at his own work and Videofag, the storefront performance space he lives in and runs with William Ellis in Kensington Market, as platforms for thinking through these themes. But more strikingly, Tannahill’s book is overflowing with interviews with important names of contemporary theatre’s vanguard. Although the book is tightly written, with helpful and clear metaphors and examples, these many quotes, while interesting, become distracting and scattered at some points. It’s as though he felt obligated to include at least one thought from everyone, just to be fair.

Perhaps for the same reason, though, the book feels extremely prescient. Many of the plays or projects he cites feel like they happened yesterday, and as a non-theatre-enthusiast, a lot of my experiences feel affirmed and answered. As part of Coach House’s Exploded Views Series, Tannahill succeeds in taking familiar themes and flipping them around, reorienting the dual elitism and obscurity of theatre by celebrating the audience and performance space as fraught, exciting, and expert ingredients. (Jonathan Valelly)