I was thrilled when I heard that Molly Cross-Blanchard's debut poetry collection Exhibitionist, was to be published this year by Coach House Books. I love Molly's poetry, which is sharp and funny and honest. Back when I edited Best Canadian Poetry 2019 I long-listed one of her poems, "First-Time Smudge," and so wished I could have squeezed it in the anthology. Better late and online than never, I get the chance now:
First-Time Smudge - Molly Cross-Blanchard
It takes eight matches, a burnt thumb, and a quick Google search
to light the sweetgrass braid Mom scored for me from an elder
at work. Always use matches, she said. Spirit likes matches.
I don’t have the abalone shell or eagle feather—
water and air—so I just hold them in my mind, cup the smoke
to my face, my left chest, down the fronts of my calves
to my feet. I notice too late I forgot to change the Spotify playlist
to something more traditional. Hopefully Spirit likes
Jimmy Eat World. I think about the word smudge
while I coax the smoke into each corner of my bedroom, the way
it might mean a smeared mark, like how the message from him
apologizing for the women in my bed was a smudge
on my inbox today. The way I felt when I read it, a smudging of my cool
front. I want to think of the word smudge as wiping away but
to soil is simpler than to cleanse and I’m afraid all this smoke
can’t smudge his spirit from the air here. I open the window, cough
an acrid cough into the dark. I notice too late: the Google article said
to keep it open from the very beginning.
In many ways, this poem - documenting the speaker's efforts to connect with their Indigenous heritage - mirrors the poems in Selina Boan's wonderful debut Undoing Hours (you can read my interview with Selina about her book here). In other ways, though, it's totally different. As Selina puts it herself in our interview:
The first time I read [Exhibitionist]... I was blown away—I laughed, I cried. I felt the whole book in my gut in the best way possible. She uses humour in a way I could only dream of. Her poems are tender, raunchy, and moving.Yes! "Hopefully Spirit likes / Jimmy Eat World", for instance, feels like a distinctly Molly Cross-Blanchard line!
The book's jacket copy hits on similar themes:
One minute she’s drying her underwear on the corner of your mirror, the next she’s asking the sky to swallow her up: the narrator of Exhibitionist oscillates between a complete rejection of shame and the consuming heaviness of it. Painfully funny, brutally honest, and alarmingly perceptive, Molly Cross-Blanchard’s poems use humour and pop culture as vehicles for empathy and sorry-not-sorry confessionalism. What this speaker wants more than anything is to be seen, to tell you the worst things about herself in hopes that you’ll still like her by the end.I'm so happy to have Molly joining me, Jen Sookfong Lee, and Barbara Nickel at the September "Strangers Summer Series" event. The reading will take place on Saturday, September 11th at 3 PM. It's a free outdoor event, though advance registration is required.
You'll be able to pick up a (signed!) copy of Exhibitionist at the event, but of course you can also purchase one from your local bookstore, or online from the Coach House Books website. Whichever way you go about it, get this book!