it is okay to say
you were too busy writing oryx and crake
to point at the indigenous connections there
it is okay if
you were too busy addressing feminism
to consider how it is no accident that it arose
here, where we have always had agency
and where the initial arrivals from europe
were women of the land, with no time for oppression
so, this is a land of women walking shoulder to shoulder
with men, in all the ways that count.
it is okay, margaret, to show us the poetry
of duncan campbell scott, cause he was who you think ‘we’ were.
but you neglect
that this man wrote elegies to the very people
he worked to destroy.
this is much more than a ‘wart’ as you’d style it
this requires comment,
so dig deeper.
with that brilliant incision you show in your prose
dig into the heart
of anglo-canadian privilege, i dare you.
stand up, woman
to woman, pen to paper
or fingers to keys
stand by your man. or at last, reconsider
re-edit, excise him from the place you let him sit
far worse than a wart on the national canon.
Margaret Atwood gave Duncan Campbell Scott 11 pages in the ‘national’ anthology of Canadian poetry she edited. Mark Abley educated me about that, because no, i hadn’t read that anthology.
So, i wrote an Open Letter to Margaret, asking her to redress this appalling editorial choice.
She never deigned to notice. How could she? She doesn’t follow me, we don’t move in the same circles, except broadly, in the frame of Canadian literary arts, where you might put her in the centre, me peeking from a crack in the shabby old, ill-fitting frame of it.
So, when The Tyee published, in honour of 2016 World Poetry Day, a list of ‘5 worst Canadian poets’ and he wasn’t on it, i tweeted to them, and her, about his deserved ranking as #1. And noted it was Margaret who lionized him in her edition of ‘our’ national poetry anthology; sort of like Hitler being anthologized among Modern German poets, and given more pages – 11 – than any other poet, without any note made of his ‘day job.’
Well, that she noticed, being it was The Tyee.
Her response? Disappointing to say the least:
‘Warts and all, that is who we were.’
No, Margaret. We were also all the people who suffered, who died, who survived with the intergenerational traumas, who inherit the callous and callow disregard of colonial apologists sitting on their privileged duffs and excusing their ignorant, shallow reading of history. We were the few who staked and lost their status on protesting against Scott and his ilk.
We were the Knockwood family, who fought their way to the Supreme Court, to win the right to take home their children. We were the people tortured by people hired by that tired, lazy-minded, twisted hack who figured it was okay to write Noble Savage doggerel with one hand while signing, with the other, documents okaying our ongoing abuse, aiming at our annihilation.
We were Dr. Bryce, whistle blower who paid for it with his position in ‘polite’ society. We were the people who fled from Hitler, from Stalin, from Mao, and who would rightfully despise in horror their works of poetry being lionized.
Head out of sand, Margaret. We know better now.
We’d like to see you use your leadership status in the literary community to publicly remove Duncan Campbell Scott from the canon; but we don’t expect you to do it in some expedient manner which can be dismissed as ‘politically correct,’ and used to cover up an ongoing belief that he deserved his place.
No, we’d want you to have read the TRC, and some Indigenous writers; toured some of the communities ravaged by his policies; and let your heart and mind be changed.
We’re not holding our breath. But we hold on to the slim belief that this is possible. And I write this in honour of that spirit of possibility.