BC Poetry 2018: "Wayside Sang" by Cecily Nicholson (Talonbooks)

Excerpt from Wayside Sang

fossil fuel psyche

pressed for    time

means for 

will travel or    drift


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.


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 the Peace and Ambassador bridges and through the Fleetway tunnel, above and beneath 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, its industry, roadways and hospitality, through and beyond the Great Lakes region.

Engaging a range of discursive fields, the book is informed by various artistic practices. As the author feels for texture and collaborates on infrastructure, new poems are formed in concert. Consider Charles Campbell’s Transporter Project, begun initially as a visual investigation of the phenomena 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; or Khari McClelland’s embrace of music as a “transportation device” uncovering the experiences of fugitive blacks crossing into Canada. All are concerned with transportation. Even as we dig, build, plant, and root, even as we shelter and grow, we have been, and continue to be, on the move.

This study is, in part, a matter of strengthening relations and becoming 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 routes Wayside Sang follows cannot be Canadian as the interlay of territories – Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Attawandaron, Ojibway-Chippewa, Huron-Wendat … – the presence and histories – Indigenous memory as a constant to land, and constitutive to travel and practice – carry the day.

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. In it are passengers and possessions – travelling musicians – memories of places never been – brothers determined by border crossings – daughters reassembled.


Arrived June 2017.


Purchase from the Talon Books website or at your local bookstore. $16.95.


Digging, building, planting, rooting, moving.

The copyrights of all poems included in the series remain with their authors, and are reprinted with the permission of the publishers.

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