Wayside Sang concerns entwined migrations of Black-other diaspora coming to terms with fossil-fuel psyches in times of trauma and movement. This is a poetic account of economy travel on North American roadways, across Peace and Ambassador bridges and through the Fleetway tunnel, above and beneath Great Lake rivers between nation states. Nicholson reimagines the trajectories of her birth father and his labour as it criss-crossed these borders in a study that engages the automobile object, it’s industry, roadways and hospitality, through and beyond the Great Lakes region.
Engaging a range of discursive fields to form the metrics of this project, she is interested in the intersection of various artistic practices and how being in relation to them can lend dimension to page and text-based efforts. Consider Charles Campbell’s Transporter project, begun initially as a visual investigation of the phenomenon of forced migration, or Camille Turner’s various “sonic walks” which present narratives that explore the complexities of Black life in Canada amid a “landscape of forgetting” Black history, and Khari McClelland’s embrace of music as a “transportation device” uncovering the experiences of fugitive Blacks crossing into Canada.
This study is, in part, a matter of strengthening relations and being situated despite displacement. It is an effort to be relevant at a time of rebellion as Black networks, community, and aesthetics gain new qualities. The work is attentive to, entwined with, and influenced by, Indigenous resurgence and poetics. It looks to Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee, and Attawandaron presence and histories – to Indigenous memory as a constant to land, as constitutive elements of Nicholson’s poetic practice.
This book was once in the fields and frequented bars. It rolls out of factories onto roads travelling north across the border and returning again to some understanding of home. There are passengers and possessions – travelling musicians – memories of the Caribbean – brothers determined by border crossings – daughters reassembled.
Cecily Nicholson, from small-town Ontario via Toronto and South Bend, relocated to the Pacific coast almost two decades ago. On Musqueam-, Squamish-, and Tsleil-Waututh-occupied lands known as Vancouver, she has worked, since 2000, in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, most recently as administrator for the artist-run centre and mental health resource, Gallery Gachet. A part of the Joint Effort prison abolitionist group and a member of the Research Ethics Board for Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Cecily was also the 2017 Ellen Warren Tallman Writer in Residence at Simon Fraser University. She is the author of Triage and From the Poplars, winner of the 2015 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize.
“Nicholson’s work has long been engaged in the book length poem/suite, but there is something about this new collection that holds itself together as a complex breath, constructed as a single, ongoing line. … Through Wayside Sang, Nicholson composes her own songs to the wayside, and the music of her lines is unmistakable.”
"The strife between strife and its other has a content all its own in this fucked up world, where we have to live the unliveable. That dialectic is irreducible. The necessity of pleasure is irreducible especially when and because it seems obscene. Poetry is suppose to show that, even more than it’s supposed to remark upon that and Cecily Nicholson’s work does this at the highest level of intensity! Wayside Sang ’s wayward swing makes small, pulsing disunities of pulse like the muffled but still multiphonic heartbeat of the earth. The song of the earth, old and new, is sung at a place by the side of the road. Wayside’s social logic sang this then and now, on edge and over it, underneath and inside outskirts of the city where we stay and the commune that we follow."
—Fred Moten, Author of A Poetics of the Undercommons
"Cecily Nicholson takes us through the North American landscape marked by machinery, memory and imagination in poetry that is angry and yet tender, beautiful and painful. She shows us how we can and cannot be on these lands that we cannot yet land on, these “muddy places of manufacture” that coerce relations to industry and separates us from land and kin. These are poems that are fierce, poems that are of love."
—Juliane Okot Bitek, Author of 100 Days
"As if one poem was the sum of one hundred minds, Nicholson’s poetry seems like it should not be possible. Should not be possible, yet she shows us how words can reveal the clock parts of a steel beam or silences of a carpet bomb. Within a short run, she pulls off impossible internal harmonies of definition and image. Reinventions of logic, reinventions of scale, reinventions of blues and jazz run triumphantly through this masterpiece. Nicholson’s poetry is the confidence of a people who stand against oppressors, and can declare that all prophets belong to us."
—Tongo Eisen-Martin, Author of Heaven Is All Goodbyes
“Cecily Nicholson’s poetry expresses a deep solidarity extended across time and space, and across divisions between the human and nonhuman, animate and inanimate. … Wayside Sang is a book of road poetry, a text in modern mechanized movement across “landscapes built for cars.” … This is a border-erasing poetry … The history of racialized oppression is obviously complex enough on its own; work like Nicholson’s nevertheless sends us out to imagine both the deepest possible structures and extensions of human alienation, as well as the most personally affective forms such oppressions can take. Poetry is all the better off for the challenge of this work — for both its love, and for its lunacy.”
“Wayside Sang “feels like gravel and grit in your mouth. Nicholson writes about destroyed industrial landscapes and communities, letting the us picture the small, worn out towns struggling to maintain themselves in the face of environmental and industry changes. … Maybe this is what poetry is really about – finding connections in strange places between things that we would never have seen without a poem to show us.”
—Alli Vail, Reading Writers Fest blog