Forward is not a direction. Or an order. Forward is not falling in line.
. . .
Forward is an invitation.
Our Bearings is a collection of narrative poetry that examines and celebrates Anishinaabe life in modern Minneapolis. Crafted around the four elements—earth, air, water, and fire— the poems are a beautifully layered discourse between landscapes, stories, and the people who inhabit them. Throughout the collection, McGlennen weaves the natural elements of Minnesota with rich historical commentary and current images of urban Native life. Reverence for wildlife and foliage is pierced by the sharp man-made skylines of Minneapolis while McGlennen reckons with the heavy impact of industrial progress on the souls and everyday lives of individuals.
While working with both traditional and contemporary form, McGlennen’s unique use of space and rhythm creates poetry that is both captivating and accessible. Our Bearings does not attempt to speak for a population; rather it offers vibrant stories and moments that give voice to pieces of a large and complex tapestry of experiences. Through keen observation and a deep understanding of Native life in Minneapolis, McGlennen has created a timely collection that contributes beautifully to the important conversation about contemporary urban Native life in North America and globally.
McGlennen rows her ‘birch bark now aluminum canoe’ through urban landscapes. She claims poems of place, identity, family narratives, geographies, and myth. Her words rise like buildings in the Twin Cities—like ‘a handful of straws in an apron pocket.’ There is striking imagery in the cityscapes as well as the natural imagery of tree line, pine needle, river, bear tracks, bonfire. There are forebodings of plastic factories and the detritus of civilization. She remembers state schools and the Owatanna orphanage that some of her family endured. In the Minnesota Historical Society, she finds letters written by her great-great-grandparents to the state for the return of their children. McGlennen is fond of the city buildings linked by skyways for the cold weather. Her poems make these same connections—the past and the contemporary urban world stand side by side in her work. Her voice gives bearings to a unique collection.
Wielding the tools of a poetic cartographer, McGlennen has created an ecology of stories—historic, immediate, and timeless—that call the land currently known as Minnesota home. Focusing attention on footprints above the cityscape, unearthed letters, and boat parts jutting out of lake water, these poems show us we are not the first (or the last) to walk the paths around us.
In McGlennen’s Our Bearings, we are given a beautifully layered vision of a city and family from the point of view of an Anishinaabe woman who lives in and sees another Minneapolis. It is a Minneapolis that is burdened by an ugly history for her family—but it is also one that lives on as a place, real and imagined, that is deeply home.
Molly McGlennen received her PhD in Native American studies from the University of California, Davis, in 2005, and her MFA in creative writing and English from Mills College in 1998. She is an associate professor of English at Vassar College. She is the author Fried Fish and Flour Biscuits and Creative Alliances: The Transnational Designs of Indigenous Women’s Poetry. McGlennen’s writing has appeared in Sentence, As/Us, Yellow Medicine Review, and Studies in American Indian Literatures.
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