book review picture

“Flee nothing if you don’t know exactly where to go.”
This quote starts off the first page and first line of the newly published collection of poems by Natasha Kanape Fontaine, from Mawenzi House Publishing.

On my first read, the above quote was confusing. In my own personal experience of fleeing from an encounter or feeling, it is always a mad, blind dash towards the unknown, far less concerned with the end result and more eager to simply escape.

However, if Fontaine’s intention was to make her reader second- guess their very own escapism into her collection of poems, she certainly succeeded with me. This idea of fleeing toward a direct and certain outcome originally reads as a something not quite like an oxymoron, but develops into a fully formed idea throughout the sparse and stark imagery conjured up in Fontaine’s poetry, as she takes her reader through an escape, a diaspora, a journey, and a rebirth.

I’ve reviewed books for Mawenzi House before, but this was my first time digging into Fontaine’s work, and it did not disappoint.

Fontaine’s words are brief, but caustic. With only a few lines on every page, she nonetheless paints a very vivid picture; one that takes her reader into the environmental, physical, and emotional turmoil of her life and people.

With extremely short poems, usually between only six and ten lines, Fontaine has limited herself in space to draw the reader into her world, but her descriptions do make it possible for me to feel her pain, joy, and sorrow as she navigates carefully through the countryside of her people, the Innuit.

Fontaine is a slam poet and environmental activist, an Aboriginal Canadian who has gained considerable prominence in the slam poetry community of Montreal, where she lives and works. Her collection of poetry “Do Not Enter My Soul In Your Shoes” won a prize from the Society of Francophone Writers of America in 2013, before it was recently translated to English by Howard Scott and reissued by Mawenzi House Publishing.

Mawenzi House describes Fontaine as being part of a new generation of people rising from the ashes who intend to take the place they deserve. The poetry in her collection sings this powerful song that rallies all who read it to her cause; to reclaim and reinvigorate the stunning natural environment around us.

However, this call to action is subtle, hidden behind the more surreal passages of Fontaine’s words which flow easily down the paper when reading, lulling the reader into the security and safety of the deep tundra, the grand scope of the earth, sky, and wildlife offered up by the world around us, that Fontaine reminds us we must work to protect.

The layers of Fontaines poetry can be quite confusing. They need to be digested slowly, with a careful eye for messages lurking below the surface of Fontaine’s Innu phrases, which are tucked carefully into nearly  every poem.

Picking apart her work to search for a nugget of concrete reason or form is not an easy task. It can be easy to start glossing Fontaine’s poems into long sentences spiritedly running down the pages one after another in a smooth lyrical tone.  Though it may because I rarely read more surrealist-styled poetry, I found her collection to be more difficult to fully engage in at first.

However, when reading it a few times over and investing the time to start picking apart the wordings, I realized that this smooth and musical quality of Fontaine’s poetry is one of the best parts. Slipping into the dream-like state of contemplation helps the magic and underlying emotion in Fontaine’s work to come alive. Like the sharp peaks of mountain-tops between rolling valleys of consciousness, poems in Fontaine’s collection have the potential to jolt the reader with their emotional intensity and deeper message.

From Poem #3:

“An autumn bed, I joined our two bodies/Our peoples in discord Fettered/In the same pleasure.”
From Poem #32:
“First glow, I don’t know/Where I’m going/The sun sits/Right over the sea
The irises/Burned with light/I get drunk/On recklessness.”

The above excerpts are a few of my personal favorite passages.

Despite its root as a collection of poetry claiming and calling for something — whether it’s peace with the environment or oneself
— Fontaine’s poems possess a quiet subtlety that more effectively draws the reader into its message than a glaring declaration would ever have managed.

The collection’s title is a warning to all who pick it up; to understand Fontaine’s motives and more deeply appreciate her lyrical phrasing, a reader must step away from his or her own way of thinking and viewing the world around them in favor of Fontaine’s own singular perspective.
However, I imagine that this is to be expected. After all, the collection names itself from the very beginning as something precious and distinctly unique: a piece of the author’s’ soul.