Maple Leaf Rag delivers rhymes and resistance

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support today for as little as $1 per month!

Maple Leaf Rag
Kaie Kellough's poems are a guided tour of an "other" Canada.

Despite the current unsustainability of our individual carbon footprints, the standard method of personal renewal in affluent postmodern society continues to be tourism. Eyes glazed over by routine and sameness are opened to the pseudo-newness of "elsewhere." It's a strategy often used in the creative writing game. From that temporary, distant perspective, one can cast a long look back at one's homeland, and gain fresh insights.

However, there are those citizens of Canada (and of any of the affluent postmodern societies) who for no other reason than the colour of their skin, their sexual orientation, religious or philosophical or political beliefs, find that "at home they're tourists" (to paraphrase Gang of Four). While many will concern themselves with assimilation, others -- and the poet Kaie Kellough is one such -- bring their consciousness to bear on their situation, and offer up new perspectives on citizenship.

Kellough, originally a Westerner with roots in Calgary and Vancouver, moved to Montreal in 1998. From the start, he has carved a unique niche for himself in the African diasporic arts community. He self-published numerous chapbooks, and his first book of poetry, Lettricity, appeared in 2004. He also co-edited (with Jason Selman) 2006's essential anthology talking book: blues, jazz, dub, rap, song and freedom in the literature and orature of Montreal's Kalmunity Vibe Collective.

Kellough's page poetry has always exhibited a joyful engagement with wordplay, and this is highlighted in many of the poems in his new collection, Maple Leaf Rag. Poems like "boy hood dub II," "jelly roll in canaan land" and "échos" incorporate elements of concrete poetry to draw out the inherent sound of the work; others, like "word sound system #2," "quittin' rhyme" and "the didnt dues" foreground the underlying jazz-inflected voice of each piece by using Maple Leaf Rag's design for the artful distribution of words across large-format pages. As Kellough writes in his introduction, "sound guides each poem, often to a place where words are splintered, meanderings belabored, & meanings blurred."

In a recent interview I did with Kellough, he expressed some doubts about the more narrative poems in his oeuvre. I hope this is just a side-effect of his current enthusiasm for sound and concrete poetry, and not a hard-and-fast judgement, because some of my favourite Kellough pieces are his prose-poetry meditations on the particularities and peculiarities of various quartiers in Montreal. "between the royal mount and the river below" paints a portrait of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve that is as accurate and poignant as anything I've read on this city:

children tough and wiry as weeds dash down rusted walkups, kick away cans and garbage bags to clear a canvas, chalk daydreams on the sidewalk, stooped men wither into cigarette smoke, all the pawnshops on ontario est are packed with hagglers hawking bile and costume jewelry for petty prices -- neighbourhood princes seeking oblivion in bomb-shaped 1l bottles of bière extra-forte, once drunk, will they dream of cartier's voyages?

Although not conceived as a unified, thematic collection, I found Maple Leaf Rag's overall impact to be like a rollicking guided tour of an "other" Canada, a black diasporic, jazzy-bluesy rumination on notions of place and identity in this 21st century. Whether commenting on encounters of racism in Calgary schoolyards or delivering brief lessons on the secret history of Canadian Blacks in B.C., Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, or ruminating on farther-flung locales like Harlem, New Orleans and the U.K., Kellough's poems remain rooted in personal experience, with a voice that's sometimes acerbic, often ironic, occasionally angry, but always compassionate, a voice which carries a high level of commitment to the craft of the poet.—Vincent Tinguely

Vince Tinguely is a Montreal-based performance poet. Read his blog illimitable reality wreck.

related items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable. has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.