Open Letter: Woman Against Violence Against Women
by Sheri-D Wilson
Frontenac House, 2014;
104 pp; $15.95
I’m probably not alone in saying I’ve always thought of Sheri-D Wilson as a spoken-word poet. She’s become almost the epitome of that genre. I may also not be the only one who’s failed to realize just how darn good her work can be on the printed page. If there might have been any doubt before, Open Letter changes that perception.
The book’s neutral cover, resembling the traditional plain paper wrapper in which porn materials were once delivered, belies its bold contents.
The work in this book grew out of performance, so elements of spoken word are certainly evident. Repetition and sound-play abound, as in these opening lines from “Exhibit A—Anamnesis”: “There’s a letter one stand-alone letter / that sticks stuck to my retrospection / like the first lick ’em stick ’em postage stamp / ever glued to send someone to somewhere . . . ”
The poem goes on to relate the story of a pen pal from childhood who wrote to tell how “. . . her father beat her because she / smiled at the wrong person . . . ” and the tactics she took to avoid getting beaten again.
So many of the poems relate such all-too-familiar accounts of violence against women—of women who disappeared from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, of the fourteen women murdered at L’école Polytechnique, of Reena Virk left to die under the Gorge Bridge in Victoria.
But the book turns out to be much more than a collection of poems about violence against women. It serves as a kind of extended ceremony for healing. As with any ritual, symbols recur. In this instance, the recurring icon is the stone; the repeated shape is the circle—a circle of healing.
An aspect of its healing force is its call for women to learn to be strong, to learn to defend ourselves and each other. That may mean physically standing up to a man (a skill that Wilson learned as a girl from her grandfather) or learning to stand together against the rape culture that killed Rehtaeh Parsons, the blackmail and hate messages that drove Amanda Todd and Hannah Smith to suicide.
While some may dismiss the book as some kind of feminist rant—and a loud one, at that—the topic is one that demands we speak out. No, the subject requires us to shout our insistence that targeted violence against women must end.
It seems that hardly a week goes by without another woman—and all too often, an Aboriginal woman—being murdered. Yet the Harper government stands stubborn in its refusal to hold a national inquiry into this festering wound on our nation. A tragedy, multiplied by his insistence on calling it a “social problem” and dismissing it.
If Sheri-D Wilson never writes another word again, with this book she’ll have guaranteed herself a place in the canon of Canadian poetry. As far as I’m concerned, it’s her masterpiece— although, wait a minute, maybe I need to reconsider that terminology. In her case, we may have to find a better name, and simply call this “woman-piece” her most important work. »
from subTerrain #70