#842 Poetry for a better tomorrow

All My Politics are Poetry
by Larry Hannant

Victoria: Yalla Press, 2019
$16.95 / 9791999289300

Reviewed by Natalie Lang

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Throughout history, poetry has been a marker for monumental events by lyrically capturing emotional and provocative aspects of life, change, disruption, and chaos. It addresses difficult and challenging issues, making pain palatable enough for readers to swallow in the hope that once ingested, we will emerge enlightened and better equipped to manage our frenzied lives. To discover that poetry is still accomplishing this feat in the modern world amidst a backdrop of unrest and discomfort is to acknowledge the power and transcendence of the poetic form itself.

Poetry remains an access point to understanding and communication. In addressing global issues through a political lens, Larry Hannant’s All My Politics are Poetry is directed at protesting the status quo and awakening one’s sense of fight and vigilance. Hannant has laid out a set of poems that display a gentle yet powerful path toward a greater understanding of the challenges we face in our modern world. Poetry has the ability to transform the limitations of what we have difficulty grasping, and to create new and beautiful perspectives in the world around us.

Larry Hannant (second from left) at an anti-Vietnam War demonstration at the cenotaph in Calgary, December 1967. Glenbow Archives
Hannant at a demonstration against the War Measures Act in Calgary on October 16, 1970, the day the WMA was proclaimed. Photo by Terry Cioni, Calgary Herald archives, Glenbow Archives

For Hannant, an award winning author, website contributor, and retired history professor at Camosun College in Victoria, this collection of politically charged poetry captures the power and potential of that transformation. Hannant uses beautiful and poignant language to clarify the thoughts many of us are having about the state of the world. His poems open the gates of understanding by providing the language with which to communicate in an open and transformative way. Historically, poetry has provided a gentle artistic access point to address the difficulties in our world, and Hannant succeeds in doing this in All My Politics are Poetry.

Hannant’s background in history complements and reflects the poetry compiled here. Written between 1969 and 2019 and organized by theme rather than date or location, these poems in various forms and styles are based on Hannant’s relationship with politics and political events across Canada. While most were written in recent years on the west coast, many date farther back to the early 1970s in other parts of the country; especially Alberta, where Hannant was born and grew up, and in Ontario, where he studied. His poems comment on topics from historical breakthroughs and tragedies to current injustices. He responds to climate change, gender, race, the opioid crisis, and capitalism. He recalls historical events, people, movements, and revolutions including the Canadian involvement in the Spanish Civil War, the Canadian labour movement, various revolutions and strikes, and his involvement in the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), where he sought to protest for a better world. For example, he writes:

When decrees steal these,
my secret whisperings;
when polished leather,
boots and belts and
holstered authority
march to make arrests,
then will I take to my feet,
then will my fingers fist
(On Mao Tse-Tung’s Call to Action, p. 37)

A Wilfrid Laurier University security guard evicts Jeffrey Forest (left) and Larry Hannant for selling their newspaper, People’s Canada Daily News, on the university campus. The Cord Weekly, November 27, 1975

Topics that are often charged with tension and division are brought together here in this small but carefully compiled collection united by one powerful idea — revolution. Hannant’s evocative language and imagery give power to those bent on challenging the status quo while connecting to profound moments in the past that changed everything. Thanks to All My Politics are Poetry, readers may find themselves called to action by the memory and lessons of history and the desire for a better tomorrow.

Through style and word choice, Hannant connects with the idea that political language can have multiple meanings. Today, more than ever, politics is filled with euphemisms and doublespeak designed to quell the uncertainties of the masses and gloss over some very real issues. Hannant does an exceptional job at using the poetic form and voice to point out the uncertainties we all feel. He draws attention to past and present political issues to inspire us to use our voices and strength to effect change.

Hannant’s poems are a gateway to understanding the world’s issues: how they erupt, what effect they have, and what can be done about them. All My Politics are Poetry gave me a real sense of urgency and reality. Repeatedly I noticed not only how the poems draw specific attention to issues of the past, but also hold a mirror up to our present circumstances, for example:

Larry Hannant signing a petition to ban nuclear weapons, 2017

Sisters stolen, missing, dead
cops just shrug, don’t care,
teenaged guy with jerkin’ head
mumblin’, cryin’, vacant stare
drugged up on some toxic shit
yet no one’s draggin’ into jail
the pharma kings that got him hit
or the game so rigged he’d fail
(Richie on the Moon, p. 58)

Living in the world today is complicated, difficult, confusing, and scary in many ways, regardless of where you live on the planet. Hannant’s poems urge us to draw upon our instinct to stand up, to make change, and to become increasingly aware of our roles in our own communities. It is our responsibility to notice faults and fight for change.

All my Politics are Poetry is not only a collection of accessible poems on politically charged topics, but a call to action, a reminder of our ability to produce permanent change from our actions. There is no better time than now to heed Hannant’s timely call for political awakening, and “…spring into the season of swift march,/ retributive strike,/ long-smouldering revolt” (Signs, p .46).

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Natalie Lang

Natalie Lang is a teacher at Rick Hansen Secondary in Abbotsford. She graduated from the University of the Fraser Valley with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Anthropology and then completed the PDP (Professional Development Program) and Bachelor of Education at Simon Fraser University. She is now a master’s student in the GLS (Graduate of Liberal Studies) program at Simon Fraser University. Natalie lives to the beat of her own drum, allowing experience and life circumstances to help determine where she goes, what she does, and how she lives. As such, she has lived in China, walked across Spain, and travelled to many areas of the world. Natalie now lives in a renovated barn in the Fraser Valley where she can be found studying for her GLS classes, designing lessons for her students, listening to records, and dabbling with her own experiments in writing.

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Larry Hannant, 2019

The Ormsby Review. More Books. More Reviews. More Often.

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of B.C. books and authors. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Wade Davis, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

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