Books·Canadian

The Response of Weeds

A poetry book by Bertrand Bickersteth.

Bertrand Bickersteth

Bertrand Bickersteth's debut poetry collection explores what it means to be Black and Albertan through a variety of prisms: historical, biographical, and essentially, geographical. 

The Response of Weeds offers a much-needed window on often overlooked contributions to the province's character and provides personal perspectives on the question of Black identity on the prairies.

Through these rousing and evocative poems, Bickersteth uses language to call up the contours of the land itself, land that is at once mesmerizing as it is dismissively effacing. Such is Black identity here on this paradoxical land, too. (From NeWest Press)

Bertrand Bickersteth was born in Sierra Leone, raised in Alberta, and has lived in the U.K. and the U.S. Bickersteth is an educator who also writes plays and poems. His poetry has appeared in several publications, including the Antigonish Review, Cosmonauts Avenue and the Fieldstone Review. Bickersteth made the 2018 CBC Poetry Prize longlist for the poem Wakanda, Oklahoma​.

He lives in Calgary, teaches at Olds College and often writes about Black history in Western Canada.

Why Bertrand Bickersteth wrote The Response of Weeds

"I am Black and I grew up in Alberta. What you discover if you are a person of colour, is that the education that you get about your place — in the country and the history of the nation — omits you. I didn't know that there was such a thing as a Black history in Alberta for most of my life. It wasn't until in my 20s in which I heard about the emigration of African Americans from the southern United States into Alberta as Black pioneers, et cetera. That started me to look into that history in much more detail. 

But what it turned out to be was a way of trying to place myself within this nation, within the national narrative, as well as Western Canadian narrative as well.

"I don't think that I knew what I was doing initially. I encountered this memoir Pourin' Down Rain by Black Canadian author and filmmaker Cheryl Foggo, who is a descendant of the Black pioneers in the province. My mom passed the book on to me and it describes this history of these Black pioneers, homesteading in Alberta and Saskatchewan. My emotional response was, 'Wait a minute, there's a whole world out there that they never told me about.'" 

Read more in his interview with The Next Chapter.

Interviews with Bertrand Bickersteth

We speak with a local poet and writer, about what it means to be black in Alberta. 8:20
A Calgary poet has written a new book exploring Black identity in Alberta. Bertrand Bickersteth joins us to discuss "The Response of Weeds: A Misplacement of Black Poetry on the Prairies". 8:23
Poet Bertrand Bickersteth talks about his new collection The Response of Weeds, which is inspired by his experiences as a Black man in Alberta. 13:08

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