ANNA MARIE SEWELL: Poetry – Water Flowing with Names

A poet, story-teller, 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.

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