Prison Industrial Complex Explodes. Mercedes Eng. Talonbooks. Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017.
from Section 3
In 2003, at the age of 14, Ashley Smith was confined to
a youth detention facility for 1 month after throwing
crabapples at a postal employee. The initial 1-month
sentence lasted almost 4 years, almost entirely in isolation,
until her death by self-strangulation in 2007. Though Smith
was videotaped placing a ligature around her neck, guards
did not enter her cell to intervene and 45 minutes passed
before she was examined and pronounced dead.
Today's book of poetry will try to answer all the appropriate questions regarding Mercedes Eng's absolutely incendiary Prison Industrial Complex Explodes. Eng, through diligent research and persistence, has unearthed and given life to this unbelievable (but too damned real) indictment of our alacrity at putting our citizens in prison. Eng's case is plain and clear and direct, she has ample and obvious and odious proof that our joy of incarceration is aimed primarily at people of colour, aboriginal citizens, and it is rising rapidly.
Eng has amassed clippings, documents, reports, songs, family photographs, government papers and so on; she has broken them down into knowable information. A factual assault on the senses that is disguised as a book of poetry. This isn't often pretty poetry but it certainly is necessary.
from Section 6
Manitoba's Child and Family Services department seized
358 newborns, an average of one newborn every day,
between 2014 and 2015. The province has one of the
highest apprehension rates in Canada and it currently has
about 10,000 children in care, the majority of whom are
In 2007, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society
of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations filed a
human rights complaint alleging that Aboriginal Affairs
and Northern Development Canada provides deplorable
funding for child welfare on reserves, far below financial
support given to other Canadians.
In 2013, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
reported that 62% of First Nations children in Manitoba live
in poverty, are three times more likely to live in a house
requiring major repairs, and are five time more likely to
live in an overcrowded house compared to low income
62% of red children
without adequate food water and shelter
means change genocidal intent constant
Prison Industrial Complex Explodes has hit close to home for Eng, her father's story plays out in these pages. Eng bring clear worded hypocrisy right to the front of the class, right to the front of the chaos.
Eng has papered the corridors of this book with the official prose, letters and various communications from prison, from deportations. There really is nowhere left to hide. Eng has created a long poem/manifesto that lays bare the tattered and racist logic that feeds the big economic machine. The Prison Industrial Complex is making some people an awful lot of money. Big money.
When all is said and done on the American southern border, after all the horrid, racist, extremist and alarmingly bad behaviour, follow the money. Racism can be very profitable.
up next on Border Security: Canada's Front Line
The B.C. Coroners Service has confirmed that 42-year-old Lucia
Vega Jimenez died in Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA)
custody. Jimenez was awaiting deportation to Mexico when
she attempted suicide. She was found hanging from a shower
stall in the immigration holding centre at the Vancouver air-
port, on December 20, 2015.
Jimenez had a job as a hotel worker in Vancouver when she
was arrested over an unpaid transit ticket, transferred to jail,
then sent to the CBSA holding cells at the Vancouver airport
to await deportation.
Today's book of poetry's morning read was a cranky affair. The weather in Ottawa has been pizza-oven-hot recently and some of us haven't fully reformed after melting out of shape. And Prison Industrial Complex Explodes offers no respite, nor should it. Page after page of Eng's book ring out like a steel hammer hitting an anvil.
Eng's hammer blows are damning evidence of the larger society's blind eye and willing complicity. Eng puts a magnifying glass on the horrible domino consequences of our own systemic racism as it has torn across generations.
There are no lullabies for bedtime in Prison Industrial Complex Explodes, instead, Eng gives us a warning shot across the bow of reason. These systems, our collective and willful ignorance, and the motives of big business all combine to create cycles of internment for many Canadians, simply because of the colour of their skin.
from Section 4
they let out Jessi's dad when Carole gave birth to
beautiful Carole, paper-bag-coloured skin a black waterfall
of Pocahontas hair
Jessi was lucky to get a golden halo
Jessi's destatused mama died of the system
they let out Jessi's dad to look after her
once the price of her mama was extracted
I wonder how it is for beautiful
Jessi who not only looked like a white girl
but the right kind of white girl
the kind of white girl boys and men go to war over
the kind of white girl who needs more lebensraum
the kind of white girl I used to wanna be
Mercedes Eng has very carefully dotted all her i's and crossing her t's to build a winning case. Sometimes, and this is one of those times, the song is a bitter one, but so very needed.
Mercedes Eng can burn like Cannonball Adderley could burn. Today's book of poetry will be looking forward to more from Eng. Prison Industrial Complex Explodes is the indictment the title promises. Good for Eng.
ABOUT THE AUTHORMercedes Eng teaches and writes in Vancouver, on unceded Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh territories. She is the author of two chapbooks, February 2010 (2010) and knuckle sandwich (2011), and of Mercenary English (CUE Books, 2013; Mercenary Press, 2016), a long poem about violence and resistance in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood of Vancouver. Her writing has appeared in Jacket 2, The Downtown East, The Volcano, on the sides of the Burrard and Granville Bridges as contributions to public art projects, and in the collectively produced chapbooks, r/ally (No One Is Illegal), Surveillance, and M’aidez (Press Release). She is currently working on a women’s prison reader and a detective novel set in her grandfather’s Chinatown supper club, circa 1948.
BLURB“Simple – but not simplistic – lines such as ‘i think about that yellow bead a lot’ reflect Eng’s exquisite attention and make me feel intimately connected to the poet-speaker. … [Other lines] reveal imagination and attention to lineation. … At once powerful and beautiful, gentle and urgent, I await more from this voice.”
—Doyali Islam in the Globe & Mail
Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher. They are shown here for publicity and review purposes. For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
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