- You are enough: love poems for the end of the world by Smokii Sumac
Kegedonce Press, the venerable and brilliant Indigenous publishers behind Smokii Sumac's debut collection, sent me an electronic reading copy of you are enough. Normally, this wouldn't be something to comment on in a book review, but in this case reading the poems on screen felt oddly appropriate. Like his near-contemporary, Joshua Whitehead, Sumac is a member of a distinct new wave of Canadian First Nations writing that is characterized by a "digitally native" sensibility, and many of these poems seem shaped by an online environment—not least in the way that they are curated into six thematic sections, respectively titled "#nogoseries," "#courting," "#theworld," "#recovery," "#ceremony," and "#forandafter." As you may have noticed from that list, hashtags also sprinkle the text (#justiceforcolten, #morelove, #makesexgreatthefirsttime) alongside Ktunaxa phrases such as "ʔa·s kȼiǂmitiǂnukqa" (16). [End Page 239] In addition, the cover is made up of a collage of selfies and landscape shots that closely matches the poet's Instagram feed (@smokiisumac), and I note that in the period since this collection was published, Sumac has also used #instapoet and #instapoetry on public posts as a way of describing his new work. This seems right, and although the bulk of this particular collection was not first published on social media, there is a very contemporary digital sensibility at play here.
To describe a serious writer as an "instapoet" might well seem like a slight, and certainly the term has taken on prejudicial overtones since "The Cult of the Noble Amateur," Rebecca Nicholson's full-throated polemic against the Instagram generation, was published in PN Review in early 2018. And indeed, if one takes the self-consciously soulful Tyler Knott Gregson or the insanely prolific rm drake as models of instapoetry, there is something mass-produced and plastic about their verse (as indeed there is about the writing of Hollie McNish, whose book Plum inspired Nicholson's rant). One only needs to look at rh sin's terrifyingly bland Instagram feed to see how commercialized such poetry can become. Critics of the movement react negatively to the attention paid to visual aesthetics in the form of multiple uses of antique typewriters, calligraphy, artfully posed selfies, as well as the much-publicized declarations by some instapoets that they don't choose to engage heavily with their forebears. The more serious generational divide, however, is over the choice of many instapoets to emphasize emotional honesty and direct statement over figurative language, complex symbolism, or even metaphor: confessionalism shorn of craft.
Smokii Sumac's writing is free of antique typewriter fonts and other such obvious clichés, thank goodness, but it does have some of the punky spirit of raw confession that one can detect in the better instapoets such as Lang Leav. The poems in you are enough, for instance, mostly dispense with capital letters, titles, and other such paraphernalia. The major form used repeatedly is the haiku—indeed, when this collection was written, Sumac's public feed on Facebook contained examples hashtagged #haikuaday—but these are the looser Western form, closer to senryu, and marked mainly by attention to syllable count rather than the haiku's precise concern with a single moment. Other formal devices include the use of a left-aligned stanza taking up approximately half a page, followed by a right-aligned stanza taking up the bottom, creating a "tearing" effect (a deleuzoguarratrian "schizo"?); like the haiku, and like [End Page 240] much poetry for screen environments, this form emphasizes the purity of the white space on the page.
As with many previous iterations of punk, this poetry has a particular value in creating space for voices that have seldom been represented previously: working class, non-gender-conforming, racially-othered by whitestream society, and particularly those whose identities intersect in these areas. This fits with Claire Albrecht's term for social media poetry, therapoeia, indicating a form in which the primary purpose of art is...