Published by: Nimbus Publishing
As early as reading the dedication page, I knew that I was going to be in for an impassioned, affecting journey. Rebecca Thomas organizes I Place You Into the Fire into three sections: the Mi’kmaw words kesalul (“I love you”), kesa’lul (“I hurt you”), and ke’sa’lul “(I place you into the fire”). I read these as exploring the space shared between love, hurt, and burning it all down. This to me, is the definition of uproar.
I was struck by the universality in the specificity described by Thomas. I saw myself in her words: my childhood, my adulthood, my essence. I saw my friends. I saw the lives of strangers who I pass regularly on the street. This is the gift of Thomas’ words. We might not know her but we know her story. The similarity brings us in, the differences invite us to stay.
There is no filler in this collection. Even the few poems that I did not feel drawn to had me reaching for a pencil to underscore lines that I wanted to re-read over and over. There is both a clarity and a complexity in the way she writes about her family, a way she sees them both as they are and as she wants them to be, exploring their personalities on their own and in relation to hers. From love for herself to seeing her father for who he is, what residential schools took from him and learning to love him wholly (“An Indian Called Sir”), countless emotions are evoked—tears of sadness and joy, tears of recognition. I keep returning to the idea of recognition because Thomas’ words made me feel seen, even though I know she is not telling my story.
She brings this same clarity and complexity to her poems about the history of Canada and the continued injustices faced by Indigenous peoples. A personal favourite was “North America Rehashes Her Dating History With the Discoverers”. This is a brilliant way to describe the history of North America using the modern tropes of dating and dating apps. This made me laugh but also laid stark the tragedy of colonization through a lens that I had never seen used before.
Poems like “I Am Honoured” and “Redface” are (deservedly) scathing examinations and condemnations of the culture of white privilege which upholds the appropriation and denigration of Indigenous peoples through the names given to several professional sports teams and the casual way in which too many people invoke stereotypes passing them off as Halloween costumes.
This collection is full of poem after poem of bringing the receipts, laying bare what we (should) already know. Thomas is placing non-Indigenous people’s feet into the fire, making us face our complicity, and in some cases duplicity, in remaining ignorant or remaining silent. With her words, she is making sure we know better, so that we do not have any excuses for not doing better, because as Thomas writes, “We are all treaty people.”
Review by: Abiola Regan
Abiola Regan primarily writes poetry and fiction. Her academic background in psychology and love of pop culture frequently work their way into her writing, whether she immediately realizes it or not. Abiola's writing has appeared in Dreamers Creative Writing, The Lumiere Review, CBC Life, The Capilano Review, and more. When she is not writing, Abiola can be found co-hosting the parenting podcast, Gaining Mom-entum.
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