It's refreshing to see a new poet on the scene who brings a different perspective to the privileged life we live as Canadians. Salimah Valiani, a queer activist of colour, brings readers to different places with very different views on what it is to educate and challenge through poetry, letters and memoir.
Packed in the 150 pages that is Valiani's second, and newest, collection, Letter Out: Letter In, are memories, meditations and calls to action through radical thought and crisp sentences. The collection is split in four parts: Letter to South Africa; Letter to Canada; Letter to All; Letter Out: Letter In.
Using quotes from notable artists such as Toots and the Maytals, "They can move mountains but only love can set us free," Jelaluddin Rumi and proverbs from the Zulu Nation, amongst others, Valiani's own words are ones that could be quoted. In her poem "Love or Death," Valiani writes: "the present speaks to the violence of the past." Valiani cleverly writes of colonialism and its after effects without putting a name to it.
Her poem "Theft" is full of descriptions of women of colour providing for their husbands, children and elders in South Africa where 80 per cent of lands are owned by Europeans. Displacement, loss, rape and the fallacy of truth and reconciliation are present throughout the book with no apology.
In "Offerings and Convictions, National Action Day in Solidarity with First Nations, June 29, 2007" Valiani writes, "A nation must come to grips with its history both good and bad to fully understand its identity." True, poignant and necessary. Valiani not only writes letters to colonizers here and abroad, she is writing letters to the colonized and the settlers who benefit from the colonization of the first peoples of the land now known as Canada.
In a collection that includes different places connected via different but similar historical violence and trauma, Valiani misses out on a great opportunity to educate people about the little known fact that South Africa's apartheid system was based on Canada's reservation system. The study of the Davis Inlet reserve for two years by the South African government with the full cooperation and encouragement of the Canadian government deserves a poem, or many, in Valiani's edgy collection.
Still, Valiani calls for Canadians not to forget where we are and on whose land we are on. Referring to the Kashechewan water crisis of 2006 (one of many First Nation reserves living in third world conditions in Canada) Valiani writes:
"It is not about partisan politics
It is about clean drinking water."
Letter Out: Letter In both educates and entertains readers through Valiani's different forms of writing -- lyric, catalogue, prose and excerpts. Valiani's thoughts are accessible, true and important. With the book's beautiful cover modeled after the blue, white and red airmail envelope, you might just write Valiani a letter after reading hers.--Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Jorge Antonio Vallejos is a Toronto-based writer.
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