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Last Modified: November 3, 2023
Illustration of a crow sitting on a book, with the following text to the left, "Crow Reads Podcast"
CROW READS with Rayanne Haines

In this month’s podcast, Rayanne Haines speaks with playwright and poet Natalie Meisner about her book, It Begins in Salt, a masterful collection of poems that wander the halls of an ocean blue-collar life while rummaging the heart spaces of growing up, and evolves into mothering, labours, and loves. This is a poetry book for poets evidenced in the staccato of line details, the rhythms that echo the maritime waves, and the sounds shaped and formed by a studied writer. When asked if her poems came to her more obedient as she herself became a poet who asked her work to do more, Meisner replied that in the case of certain poems such as “Sugar Blood,” “the poem just sat itself down . . . but that almost never happens.” And in that case “the wrangling was intellectual, off the page somewhere else; you know, dealing with heavy stuff, important stuff.” She goes on to say that in most cases her works still needs “a bit of wrangling, and they don’t feel obedient. They feel to me as if they’re their own things. And I’m just chasing them.”

The consideration of mother labour and mother loss is deeply embedded in the manuscript. Meisner shares the stories of her childhood through pieces like “Making It Look Easy,” in which she recollects her mother’s capacity for love and hard work. Through the weaving of this story the reader can see how this mother labour has been foundational in Meisner’s life. She writes with a wild sense of empathy, and when she shares a person’s voice, their words come through distinct and opinionated and as real as though that person was sitting next to you on the bus. Take for instance the lines,

At first light she arrives home,
I hose off the stench in the yard
am too gentle with nozzle
she grabs it says, like this
never let anyone see you flinch
as the cold stream hits her neck
fish scales spark & glint
sequins on a beaded curtain
a thousand tiny points of light
run down her tired body
by which I might chart
the rest of my life

The poems move from these moments of girlhood shaping to rebelliousness, humorous accounts of maritime life, and the curves of grief—all with an intentional choice to write from inside the moment or emotion rather than as an observer. When asked about this choice Meisner offers,

“You know, it feels like if I can’t get as close to the thing as I can and read it with such honesty as I can, then it is a topic or thing that I would never want to cheapen in any way; if you can’t really lay yourself bare in that point, then you should just put it away for a while until you can.”

In the poem, “the lump,” Meisner writes a gutting exploration of grief that is at once hauntingly solitary and fully embedded in shared family experience. It is a poem that asks us to feel impossible loss, while simultaneously sharing the voices of her aunt and mother, to give sound to grief, so we may help hold it:

& outside my Aunt, your mother
can’t stop throwing up
“I can’t breathe” she is saying
“I just have to just get this lump up”
& my mother, your aunt, says:
“You won’t be able to,
that lump is your heart”

It Begins in Salt is a tremendous collection written by a person shaped by their upbringing, their understanding of their queer identity, those safe spaces in which we find ourselves and the ways we make a life. Released by Frontenac House, this is a collection that spans provinces, years and stories. The movement and shapes, the language, the repetition all reflect the journey of an artist who lives and breathes their craft.

You can listen to the full interview here:

Rayanne Haines (she/her) is a Pushcart nominated author, educator, and cultural producer. She was the 2022 Writer in Residence for the Metro Edmonton Federation of Libraries and is the author of three poetry collections. She is an assistant professor at MacEwan University and the newly elected president of the League of Canadian Poets. Her collectionTell the Birds Your Body Is Not a Gun won the 2022 Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry and was shortlisted for the ReLit Award and the Robert Kroetsch Poetry Award. A new hybrid collection is forthcoming in fall 2024.

Book cover image for Tell the Birds Your Body is Not a GunTell the Birds Your Body is Not a Gun

by Rayanne Haines

Published in April 2021 by Frontenac House
ISBN 9781989466216

Headshot of Natalie Meisner. A person with short medium dark hair wearing a dark blue blazer over a light shirt, with arms crossed.Natalie Meisner is a poet and playwright from the Mi’kma’ki /South Shore of Nova Scotia and the fifth poet laureate of Calgary/ Mohkinstsis. She combines survivor comedy with hopepunk in the service of social change. She is a wife, mom to two great boys and a full professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. Her 2023 collection, It Begins in Salt, wanders the halls of an ocean blue-collar life while rummaging the heart spaces of growing up, and evolves into mothering, labours, and loves.

It Begins in Salt

Natalie Meisner (CA)

Published: Apr 15, 2023 by Frontenac House Ltd.
ISBN: 9781989466476