Spawn is a braided collection of brief, untitled poems, a coming-of-age lyric set in the Mashteuiatsh Reserve on the shores of Lake Piekuakami (Saint-Jean) in Quebec. Undeniably political, Gill's poems ask: How can one reclaim a narrative that has been confiscated and distorted by colonizers?
The poet's young avatar reaches new levels on Nintendo, stays up too late online, wakes to her period on class photo day, and carves her lovers' names into every surface imaginable. Encompassing twenty-first-century imperialism, coercive assimilation, and 90s-kid culture, the collection is threaded with the speaker's desires, her searching: for fresh water to "take the edge off," for a "habitable word," for sex. For her "true north"—her voice and her identity.
Like the life cycle of the ouananiche that frames this collection, the speaker's journey is cyclical; immersed in teenage moments of confusion and life on the reserve, she retraces her scars to let in what light she can, and perhaps in the end discover what to "make of herself".
Praise for Spawn:
"Spawn is an epic journey that follows the ouananiche in their steadfast ability to hold: rigid, shimmering, hardened to the frigid waters of winter, in all of its capacities of and for whiteness. Here, poems summon a spawn of wonderworking dreams: 'a woman risen up from all these winter worlds, heaped with ice [and] ready to start again'." —Joshua Whitehead, author of Jonny Appleseed
"Spawn is unforgettable poetry of the highest order." —Kaveh Akbar, author of Calling a Wolf a Wolf
"Gill's poems are like small treasures clutched in buried tree roots, preserving 'the chalky veins' of ancestral memory pulsing just below our modern hustle." —Kiki Petrosino, author of White Blood
A coming-of-age story unfolds on the shores of Quebec's Lake Piekuakami in the spare, meditative fourth book from Gill (B ante). Divided into sections (among them "The Rampart," "The Reserve," and "Adolescence") these short, untitled poems evoke their setting, the Mashteuiatsh Reserve (the life cycle of the ouananiche tribe serves as a motif throughout the collection), investigating colonial impact while weaving elements of resilience and chance: "day and night the dandelions push/ through cracks in the cement// and before us, the lake/ a luck/ the lake." This last line repeats in other contexts: "A luck: the arena at night and making out/ behind the police station/ the northern lights dancing on nintendo/ chicken buckets... And the lake, a luck, the lake." The question of fate appears elsewhere, "how to augur anything/ but crooked miracles/ anyway." Gill's political concerns are lightly handled by these precise lines, as she writes in "The Reserve": "I am a village that didn't have a choice." The journey of Gill's lyric speaker is at once relatable in its particulars and distinctively evocative. Miller's skillful translation makes vivid a landscape and language that will transport readers.