The Next Chapter

Bertrand Bickersteth reviews three subversive books about exploration and location 

The poet and columnist reviews Magnetic Equator by Kaie Kellough, Paying the Land by Joe Sacco and A Journey for the Ages by Matthew A. Henson.
Born in Sierra Leone, raised in Alberta, and formerly resided in the U.K. and the U.S., Bertrand Bickersteth is an educator who also writes plays and poems. (Nathan Elson Photography)

Bertrand Bickersteth is a poet, author, educator and The Next Chapter columnist who was born in Sierra Leone, raised in Alberta, and has lived in the U.K. and the U.S. 

"Storied soil" is the phrase Bickersteth uses to describe his home province of Alberta in his debut poetry collection The Response of Weeds. The collection was named one of the best poetry books of 2020 by CBC Books.

Bickersteth spoke with Shelagh Rogers about three books that share subversive themes of place, placement and heading north: Magnetic Equator by Kaie Kellough, Paying the Land by Joe Sacco and A Journey for the Ages by Matthew A. Henson.

Magnetic Equator by Kaie Kellough

Magnetic Equator is Kaie Kellough's third poetry collection. (McClelland & Stewart, Melissa-Anne Cobbler)

"This is a meditative rumination on place and identity and race. It meanders from Guyana, to Canada, and to the Canadian prairies. Kaie Kellough does a lovely job of poetically mapping out the spaces of his mind, as well as the geography of his identity. 

"Kellough is one of my favourite poets. He's a magnificent poet. He was nominated for both the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Griffin Prize in the same year, the latter of which he won.

This is a meditative rumination on place and identity and race. It meanders from Guyana to Canada and to the Canadian prairies.

"His family is from Guyana in South America, which is culturally part of the Caribbean. He was born in Vancouver, grew up in Calgary and then moved to Montreal as an adult.

"The poems use Guyana as a point of departure to try to understand histories of migration and this question of what it means to arrive somewhere."

Paying the Land by Joe Sacco

Paying the Land is a book by Joe Sacco. (MacMillan, CBC)

"This book is a graphic novel. Joe Sacco visits Canada's far north and he tries to represent these intricate stories that have emerged between our natural resource extraction industry and the Indigenous communities that have been there forever and how they are impacted. 

"Sacco is a hybrid practitioner because he's a journalist, but he also draws comics as well. And you wouldn't think that Canadian North could be well represented in this way, but it is.

Sacco is a hybrid practitioner because he's a journalist, but he also draws comics as well.

"Sacco does a remarkably good job of unpacking these complex ideas."

A Journey for the Ages by Matthew A. Henson 

Matthew A. Henson was an author and Black American explorer. (Skyhorse, Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

"This book is an autobiography, but it just focuses on one very specific event. It has a different title than its original title — when it was published in 1911, it was called A Negro Explorer on the North Pole. Matthew Henson was born immediately after the American Civil War. After the abolishment of slavery, Henson finds himself working on ships and sailing around the world. 

"One day, while working in a store, the famous explorer Robert Peary shows up. Peary has a few conversations with Henson and realizes he is experienced enough to join him on his expedition. 

After the abolishment of slavery, Henson finds himself working on ships and sailing around the world. 

"And in fact, Henson joined Peary on all his future expeditions for the next 20 years, including the final one in which they allegedly made it to the North Pole first."

Bertrand Bickersteth's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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