Foreign Homes, Joan Crate's second book of poems, explores domesticity and dislocation, where what was thought to be home becomes alien, and where the alien is, piece by piece, made into home -- often in such simple, physical acts as laying a table, or driving a highway, or reassembling a tom photograph. In Crate's careful hands, the knife that cuts the vegetables for dinner can transform the blade-edge of a distant war. Her migratory poems slip from voice to voice, from love to landscape to language, present to past, exile to return, illuminating the boundary that is also a border crossing between one person, one place, and another:
We have crossed borders to reach
each other and lost land
chafes our touch. I carry
snowshoes, winter wheat, raven call, winter pocked by arsenic flakes from the mines.
You bring donkey sweat and spent bullets,
voices that shriek out, tear bright.
We offer them to each other-
gift and sacrifice.
Domestic images and personal narrative surround a burning, incantatory sequence at the centre of the book, where poems circle Shawnandithit, a Beothuk who died in exile in Newfoundland in the nineteenth century, the last of her people. In giving voice to what is unknown, feared, lost, and silent, Crate's playful language is itself powerfully involved in this act-often violent-of breaking and making anew. And whether these homes are stolen or lost or stumblingly found, Crate is unflinching even as her own homes are made and un-made, watching those "who wait on the porch steps/ eager to move into our youth,/ to reassemble our bones."
About the author
Joan Crate was born in Yellowknife, N.W.T., but moved to Vancouver after her miner father decided to become a teacher. Because her father taught on various Reserves in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, Joan grew up in a variety of Metis and Native cultures. She graduated from the University of Calgary with an Honours BA in English and a Masters in English (with Distinction). Her Honours Project, a poetry collection entitled Pale as Real Ladies, was published by Brick Books. She has also published a first novel, Breathing Water, with NeWest Press. She taught literature, including Native writers, for over twenty years at Red Deer College. Crate drew on her first-hand knowledge of and sympathy for Native cultures to write Black Apple, in addition to researching the history of residential schools and interviewing survivors. She lives with her husband and children in Calgary.
Joan Crate says that while her family history is not entirely clear, she believes her ancestors may have been Metis from Manitoba who dispersed east and west after the Riel Rebellion. In her own words: “My dad brought us up with exposure to First Nations and Metis cultures, no matter where we were living, so my sister and I were taken to potlatches, pow-wows, art exhibitions and political rallies from an early age. I would have to say that it’s the cultural exposure rather than the racial and, to a lesser extent, the political that makes me identify with First Nations/Metis cultures.”