Book Review: Glass Beads

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From the Feminist Caucus of the League of Canadian Poets, by Chair Anne Burke, we find the in-depth review of Sandra Lynn Lynxleg‘s First Lines book of poetry, Glass Beads. This is Sandra’s first book of poetry, and her first book published by Black Moss Press. Anne Burke reviewed this book. Thank you Anne!

Review of Glass Beads, by Sandra Lynn Lynxleg (Windsor, Ontario: Black Moss Press, 2013) 88 pp.

The collection was dedicated to the elders. This is a recent title in The Black Moss Press First Lines Poetry series for writers publishing their first book of poetry.

The title of the collection suggests crafts, “Necessary flaws are seen /Sewn”. Knots, “stitch upon /stitch”, sandwich bags, “Filled with needles, /thread, tails, buttons.” This is from “She Buttoned Their Eyes”, part III of the opening poem. Compare: she is reading her blanket with her hands, by Sharron Proulx-Turner (Frontenac House) with the patterns of glass beads which compose this collection; with “Glass Bead Red”: raising a beer over a Hudson’s Bay blanket as graduation gift. In “Those Three”, there are three sections; the final lines of each stanza become the title and topic of the next. Although first impressions are negative, “remember somebody loves her”, her resume is impressive, if not her work legacy. An aged lady is “miserable”, “gnarled”, “and wrinkled”.

A violent discourse, within italics for emphasis, is reenacted (“Buckskin and Crown Royal). There are various boxes for both bones and beads (“Reduced to Boxes”), as simply compartments, “No buffalo sage, sweet grass, honour song”. The declaratives “I see”, “I hear”, and “I stare” are used to capture a sense of revenge (“Standing in the last pew”). More violent weapons are identified (“House of Knives”).

As a personal aside, my paternal uncle used a knife to lock his bedroom door. My paternal aunt sleepwalked, order to obtain a knife from the kitchen drawer. My boy cousins continued the practices.

The phallic “His knife” injures her (“Off a Gravel Road Stained as Silver”). A man suffers from dementia, after he accidentally killed his wife (“Glen and June”. This conveys a philosophy about the vagaries of fate, as much as it reveals the problems of addiction. The scene is “woven” (“Beyond Wings”). Death is personified in a quasi- religious mystery pageant (“Above an Empty Parkade”). A found poem is documenting the Last Statement of a convicted murderer.A new section “Glass Bead: white” is about abortion as soiled laundry. The result is the stark, unflinching “Bled Clean”. In “Father Sky’s Regard”, the poet examines the residential school syndrome, in painstaking detail, from the viewpoint of a next- generation victim. She can pass as white. Unlike an angel, the “Bear [dances] on a Head of a Pin”, dedicated to her brother who died. Even a “Snake” possesses a soul. The physical effects of mood as a placard and frost-bitten words are emotionally trying.

In Glass Bead turquoise”, this is the colour of, paradoxically, releasing her daughter in order to “get her back”. A “Last Coffee” ends a bitter romance. Youth has fled (“More Than the B Side”). The poet contemplates photographs, in order to narrate “My Story My Cowboy”. A restful tableau of a boy and “13 Geese of Winter” precedes domestic violence perpetrated by a brother onto a sister.

In another “Glass Bead”, blue is for a moment of trust which will be soon, repeatedly, broken. In order to feed her children, a woman prostitutes herself. (“Coitus”) The beehive hairdo dates the “neesh”, but not along with welfare for “federal cash”, which is a continuing societal problem. An insect resembles the mother-queen and her brood. (“Paper Wasp”)

Infidelity is “your last fuck date” (“Even Before You Speak”). An act of cleanliness is obsessive (“Washing Dirty Dishes”). Pornography is uncovered (“Bothered by Moon”). A lone wolf man is compulsively promiscuous (“7 Year Wife”). The persona compares her desire to the lust of her Lothario. (“let the delirium begin”).

In “Glass Bead” purple, she gives birth, but is demeaned and described thus, “just like a cow, just like a cow”. Spoken language is composed of “wrinkled vowels” and “tight tongued consonants” (“saulteaux”). A prose poem exposes the debacle of addiction (“Cottonwood and Litter”). This is followed by other childhood memories (“Bears Oranges”). The significance of naming is examined in “The Story of My Names”. Identify shifts from the nineteen-fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties, depending on legislation, such as the BC Marriage Law, Bill C-31, as well as happenstance, until she reclaims her Territorial Name. An instructor ponders how to teach abstract virtues, using “7 Teaching Stones on Turtle Island”. Her empty womb is compared with his empty hands (“Envy”).

Both “ocean” and “Radii” are visually interesting poems, concrete and carefully arranged on the page. In “Wisdom Lines”, the colour pink represents a cancer clinic, “screams of a wounded ant are audible.” The next poem expresses resignation, “Watching Snow Fall”.

The long poem series “How the First Traffic Light was invented as a result of Raven, Coyote, Nanabush, a meeting, a population crisis, and a cop” was self-published online and is available on CD, a product of her M.F.A. thesis, with amusing, full-colour illustrations.

In “Whiskey”, concern is expressed about what is given to Indians, in this instance morphine, gravel, and ativan. In “True Flowers” a still-life portrait shows “Poets” in their natural setting. “Where I Write” shapes the impulse as Sky, thunder, flash, hit, and stream.

“Glass Bead” brown prepares the locus at Sundance for remarriage. The prose poem “Pupils” deals with interracial marriage which is still unacceptable to family. In “To Poet”, the persona identifies herself with an Abecedarian, Tina Biello, Marianne Moore, Wendy Morton, Mary Oliver, David Pimm, Charles Wright, Pam Porter, Sylvia Plath, Susan Stenson, Elizabeth Bishop, Patrick Lane, Lucille Clifton. All poets, all beautiful. In “Aubade”, the persona is Meryl Streep, but the hour is gone. The final “Glass Beads” sums up all of them, in linear and non-linear patterns.

Not surprisingly, the heart and soul of Glass Beads is the central poem “My Fascination with Thomas King’s Storytelling Style and How the First Traffic Light was invented as a result of Raven, Coyote, Nanabush, a meeting, a population crisis, and a cop”. This is a cartoonish, satirical, romping, and rollicking narrative.

A course in Aboriginal Art which I took through Continuing Education, at the University of Calgary, included a day-trip to the Glenbow Museum and Archives. This took place during the controversy over challenges by First Nations to the institution’s holdings of original Aboriginal artifacts. One of the next-generation, contemporary artists, who visited our class, displayed his satirical and cheeky approach to traditional motifs of “The Raven”, a “Thunderbird” (a winged automobile), and others, all of which was thought- provoking. The sense was that stereotypical emblems were produced, on demand, to fool the dumb, but well-meaning, white tourists who eagerly bought them.

In a similar manner, Sandra Lynn Lynxleg humourously adapts “what the elders said” and “You may have heard about that /or at least something close to it”, the closing refrain of each section. The words wash over the reader, the inevitable cycle of creation myth from sun to black, together with disorientation, even the cacophony of screaming, and baby-making.

Much as the “Thunderbird” was transformed as an automobile, she arranges anachronisms, such as “geo-nautical compasses” in fish, global positioning, hemispheric tampering, and profiling flaws. Amid the din of a public disturbance, there is a Zen-like motorcycle. In addition, there are the familiar cancelled meetings, emergency meetings, and community service.

The composition is “peopled” by Raven, Coyote, Duck, aside the anachronism of Christopher Columbus (and baseball), Four Seasons, Buffalo, Sun, Moon, Sky, and Baby Rattlesnakes, and, of course, the Two Leggeds, whether set in Oyama, Osoyoos, Nunavut, or elsewhere.

This effort to explore “How The First Traffic Light Was Invented” depends on the key causative agents who are Raven, Coyote, and Nanabush, in turn, which necessitate a

meeting, a population crisis, and a cop (in this instance, Thomas King) who uses a white whistle and remains unable to patent his invention.

The poet acknowledges the author Thomas King, in this homage to aboriginal oral traditions, beliefs, and customs.

Coyote mixes up our World, says Thomas King. We agree, says those Moose, Vancouver Squirrels, and Prairie Chickens.

(p. 74)

For example, those who eat seafood, form a group in the west. Those who eat Buffalo, form a group in the east. Those who eat raw meat, form a group in the north. Those who like all of the above and do not like snow, automatically default south.

(p. 75)

Meanwhile Two Leggeds split into debate teams: Meat vs Vegetarians, Seafood vs Fresh Water Delicacies.

(p. 75)

On a more serious, compelling, and imperative note, Lynxleg worked closely with Wendy Morton on: Together with the Children: The Elder Project, 1-7, “With All Our Knowledge”. Morton describes these as “brave poems”, “a rainbow”. She is definitely in a position to know.

Sandra has been published in Fiddlehead, by Leaf Press, in Our Canada Magazine, and Quills Canadian Poetry Magazine. She was featured in Force-Field, an all-women’s anthology published by Mother Tongue Publishing, edited by Susan Musgrave. Lynxleg describes herself as Ojibwe, Scottish, Irish, and District Principal, for Aboriginal Education, SD 22 Vernon, B.C.

She is a status member of the Tootinaowaziibeeng Treaty Reserve No. 4 in Manitoba. Her father is of Scottish-Irish heritage and her mother is Saulteaux (Ojibwe- Cree). She has been married for thirty years and has three grown daughters. Sandra holds a U.B.C. B.Ed. degree through U.B.C.’s Native Indian Teacher Education Program (NITEP). In May 2013, she received a U.B.C. M.F.A., Creative Writing through their optional-residency program

Anne Burke

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