During the fall of 2020, graduate students in the Ryerson University English Department’s Literatures and Modernity program worked on digital criticism projects that reflected on Indigenous literature in Canada and feminist forms of testimony. This post originally appeared on graduate student Laraib Khan’s Medium bog.
When I was buying I Am Still Too Much by Brandi Bird, the title immediately caught my attention. The statement “ I Am Still Too Much” holds a certain intimacy that intrigued me. There is a sense of self-awareness that comes across from saying I am too much, a certain sense of acknowledgment, I suppose. Just from reading the title, I knew that the perfectly sized, convenient book would unfold deeper conflicts regarding one’s identity and concept of self-awareness. While reading this intelligently crafted, poetic chronicle I was inclined to read more about the speaker of the poems, Brandi Bird. They are a part of the Cree, Saulteaux, and Metis community, grew up on Territory 1 in Winnipeg, and this physical, geographic space is highly significant in the book. Their book is a fascinating collection of loss, trauma, displacement, and self-identity. Brandi has attempted to explore the path to recovery from the massive effects of colonial trauma and has expanded greatly on the struggle of finding one’s identity.
Published by Rahila’s Ghost Press, Bird’s book reveals the emotional and physical scars of losing one’s identity and their healing process throughout each piece. The everlasting effects of violence are explored through poetry. The pain is hidden within the descriptions of the beautiful prairies, reserves, territories, roads, and homes. Bird explores the memories associated with specific geographical places in their poems. For instance, the book starts with “There is a path of prairie/flowers growing in the graveyard…” in the poem “At My Grandma’s Funeral” and ends with a poem “Selkirk, Manitoba,” which is again dwelled with descriptions of the physical land. The geographical space is what the book opens with, and the book ends with describing the prairies as well, which shows how the organization of the book itself is wrapped around the land and nature.
The concept of Indigenous geography is dominant in many of the poems: “Manitoba,” “Flood of the Century,” “King Tide,” “Selkirk, Manitoba”, in which Bird has incorporated Earthly entities with their own self and body. They have personified physical spaces as part of healing; they speak about spaces as a part of themselves. Poem “19” starts off with “I triage the landscape. The prairies/are numb today and so am I.” The numbness of the speaker’s body is described through the imagery of the land being numb; the land here is given a feeling, hence making a connection between the space and their own identity. Perhaps a commentary on how constant violence and rejection leaves the body feeling nothing, only numbness is left within the body. In this poem, the speaker hesitates in being their own body; they describe the land as “The prairies are split/into farmland locked in the control/of continuity and destruction…” and right away there is an imagery of broken land. The idea of land being “locked in the control,” hones the idea of colonial violence, words like ‘split’ or ‘destruction,’, all indicate the presence of brutality. Then, this statement is followed by “A plaque/of canola on my arm itches and/I wand to scratch…” which shows the agitation the speaker is feeling inside their own body. Phrases such as ‘plaque’ or “scratch” are bodily language that paints a concise image of damage, or a disease. The last line of this poem — which is where the title comes from — “I am still/too heavy for the wind to take me/anywhere fast. I am still too much.” emphasizes the idea of not being able to fit in, not being able to satisfy some sort of power. The analogy of nature with the body, both depicted as something broken or disturbed is highly prevalent in this poem. Which showcases Bird’s conceptual tools used in this book: the descriptive geographical details in order to explore self-identity, damage, and the hope of healing.
In addition to identifying nature with the self, whether in relation to the loss of identity or due to colonialism, Bird ties nature with Indigenous kinship. Throughout the poetry, there are repetitive metaphors of natural substances being compared to deep relations such as a father or a mother: “…A father as water,”…” the Red River Valley,/are written on my father’s/back” or “ Mother is a place where nothing/grows anymore. A dry well” Majority of the concerns within this book are spoken about in comparison with nature. The mention of water, the Earth, the sky, and natural disasters are tied with human relationships to highlight the complications between them. More so, in some poems, the massive effect of a natural disaster is described as a metaphor for the disasters of colonization. “Flood of the Century,” for example is an extraordinary composition that highlights the physical trauma of the body and land through the descriptions of the land ‘erupting’. Phrases such as “this demolished metre,” “floodplain of glacial memory,” or ” The Perimeter cracking,” all allude to the notion of pain, destruction, and displacement. Along with these examples, other poems immensely show the struggles of lost identity and a strong urge to find one’s place after being displaced.
I Am Still Too Much is a highly personal narrative, Bird speaks on significant issues of settler colonialism, self-identity, and kinship. Due to identifying themselves as a nonbinary Indigenous person, Bird brings a lot of their own pains and contributes to the study of transgender Indigenous studies. Through their poetry, they manifest a great deal of trauma, injustice, and a feeling of not belonging. Along with colonial struggles, their work reflects their personal journey of finding a place in their own land.