NDN Coping Mechanisms: Notes from the Field

House of Anansi. Sept. 2019. 96p. ISBN 9781487005771. pap. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781487005788. POETRY
“A village emptied of its children is a haunting.” “Where the heterogeneity of grief/ meets the singularity of death is the NDN experience.” “A boy in love with a boy/ becomes an open window.” “I hurled myself at a prison/ so the moonlight could tiptoe inside.” “Truth is, I want even less/ than this already puny life.” “Drunk on hope,/ which is the most NDN of all NDN feelings,/ I make out with my imaginary NDN lover/ in the ashes of every Canadian pastoral poem ever written.” In his second collection (after This Wound Is a World, winner of Griffin and Indigenous Voices honors), big-breaking Canadian poet Belcourt seems nearly to fling his startling and broken-glass-sharp phrases on the page. But for all the ferocious energy and one-two punch of language here, this is also a concentrated, beautifully managed work. He clarifies his topic by explaining in an author’s note, “NDN is internet shorthand used by Indigenous peoples in North America to refer to ourselves.” He also explains that it sometimes means “Not Dead Native,” and the spiritedness contained in that bald phrase animates the book.
VERDICT Not just a poet to watch but one to read now, especially for readers interested in social justice issues--and for those who should know more.
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