‘This Accident of Being Lost: Songs and Stories’ by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

Book Reviews

This Accident of Being LostReviewed by Gwen Benaway

I am familiar with Leanne Simpson’s work, so when I was asked to review her newest book, This Accident of Being Lost, I immediately said yes. Simpson and I share some common ground. We were born in the same small town in the middle of rural Ontario. We are Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and learned some of our teachings from the same elder. More important, we are Indigenous writers who create work exploring the boundaries of what we call “decolonial love.” This notion of reclaiming love and intimacy as a space for resistance and revitalization sits at the heart of Simpson’s new work.

Many other reviewers have focused on the interweaving of Anishinaabe language, stories and culture in the book. This is an important feature of the work, a multi-layered text with poetry, short stories and experimental textual monologues. What fascinates me about Simpson’s work is not its Anishinaabe cultural roots, but its examination of intimacy and love. You can’t separate being Indigenous from how we love others. It’s an extension of culture and worldview. Simpson highlights this, interspersing narratives about loving someone through text messages, or falling in love with the wrong man at the wrong time, with cultural images and teachings. She explicitly connects everyday intimacy with tradition. This is groundbreaking and powerful, a kind of writing which is not common in mainstream Indigenous literature.

Simpson also makes explicit examples of Queer and polyamorous relationships in this book. While still taboo in some parts of Indian country, polyamory and Queerness have always been a part of the Anishinaabe worldview. We were known for it among other Indigenous nations as well as by the Jesuits when they arrived to our land. What emerges throughout “This Accident of Being Lost” is the personal narrative of falling in love, how it happens without warning and produces sudden anxiety. Anxiety, a fear of others and a fear of self, is a constant theme of the book. There are many moments where the narrators in the poems and stories describe their various anxious thoughts in the context of intimate bonds.

I like the humanity of the anxiety-fueled passages. While Simpson is an unapologetic resister of the colonial state, she creates a world where ordinary fears sit together with acts of defiance against racism and cultural fragmentation. One of my favourite passages in the book describes the narrator going on a canoe hunting trip with her male partner. The male partner and the moose she is hunting are interwoven, making it hard to tell which male is being referred to. The violence of the intimate bond, loving someone but not knowing how to love them without hurting them, is highlighted in this piece, as it ends with the narrator shooting the moose. It suggests that Simpson is clearly using cultural frameworks to talk about love, long term relationships and the ways we take from those we love.

My other favourite piece in the collection is about a failed relationship. The narrator writes about falling into a complete love with a man while they sit and listen to his grandmother tell stories. She writes about this love being a love without control, without borders or demands, an effortless embracing affection. It is a sexual love but one that acknowledges that it may never be possible. What compels me about this piece is how close it comes to articulating that notion of decolonial love. For Simpson, decolonial love is a love that does not seek to own or control the object of its desire. Similar to how Anishinaabe approach land, decolonial love is about reciprocating a respectful exchange of care. Some readers may not connect to this work, but I think it’s one of Simpson’s more significant contributions to Indigenous literature.

While there are many things to be praised in Simpson’s new book, I feel the real value of her work is how it connects the human, the sacred, the Queer and the Indigenous together in story. Often Indigenous stories are told in fragments. We can be spiritual but not sexual. We are resisting but not giving love. We must question Canada but we can’t go to Starbucks. Simpson’s narratives shatter this myth, showing Indigenous voices in connection to non-Indigenous partners of several genders. There is a piece about reading Twitter. There are poems about breaking up. It’s wonderfully full of life while never denying or releasing its connections to land and community. This is the kind of Indigenous literature we need more of—and I highly recommend reading This Accident of Being Lost. The writing is beautiful in places, but mostly, it’s filled with stories of a brave love for community and each other. That alone makes it worth reading.

House of Anansi | 152 pages | $19.95 | paper | ISBN #978-1487001278

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Gwen Benaway

Gwen Benaway is a trans woman of Anishinaabe and Métis descent. Her first collection of poetry, Ceremonies for the Dead, was published in 2013, her second collection of poetry, Passage, was released in 2016 from Kegedonce Press and her third collection of poetry, What I Want is Not What I Hope For, is forthcoming from Bookthug in 2018. In 2015, she was the recipient of the inaugural Speaker’s Award for a Young Author, and, in 2016, she received an Dayne Ogilvie Honour of Distinction for Emerging Queer Authors from the Writer’s Trust of Canada.