A review of Three Nations Anthology edited by Valerie Lawson

Reviewed by Ruth Latta

Three Nations Anthology:
Native, Canadian & New England Writers
Resolute Bear Press
Edited by Valerie Lawson
ISBN: 978-0-9988195-1-8, Paperback, 176 pages

The idea for Three Nations Anthology came about ten years ago when editor Valerie Lawson and her partner moved to Robbinston, Maine, population 525, on Passamaquoddy Bay. “The presence of the Passamaquoddy tribe and Canada close by were appealing,” she writes. “The thought of joining these three sovereign nations in dialogue presented itself early on.”

As editors of Off the Coast literary journal, Lawson and her partner Michael R. Brown encountered excellent writing from a variety of contributors. Now, after studying Book Arts and publishing at the University of Maine in Machias, she has made her dream of a three nations anthology a reality. Three Nations Anthology, (ISBN 978-0-9988195-0-1) shows the impact of nature upon North-Eastern Seabord residents – Canadian, American and First Nations. Lawson included essays, short fiction and poetry that “explore the things that divide, the bridges between, and the intense love of this rugged region that the people hold in common.”

Over fifty authors contributed outstanding works to this collection. To pay tribute to all would make this review too long, so I will mention several that struck a chord with me. A Canadian, I grew up in another rugged part of North America where one is always aware of the power of the natural world.

The anthology begins with a powerful poem, “This That This”, by prize-winning author and writing teacher, Elizabeth Sprague of East Machias, Maine. “Listen,” the poem begins. “Before iron, before the Cross and the Book. Before masts. This black stone sluiced with fog. A whale sleeping.”

Carl Little’s poem, “Spring Pick Up,” shows us a road lined with old mattresses one April garbage day and brings together in striking juxtaposition “the princess and the pea”, bedbugs, making love, chilly dreams and body counts. To a homeless wanderer, he muses, the mattresses would look like beds “awaiting the blissful collapse of your worn and wandering body.”

“Homecoming,” by David R. Surette, is about the “harbored hard history” and “aching heart” of someone of Irish-Acadian ancestry returning to Digby, Nova Scotia.

The short story “Sweetfern,” by Barbara Chatterton, shows a twelve year old girl who experiences the thunderbolt of first love while working in the Maine blueberry industry. Her beginning sentence, “The first man I kissed was a killer,” is intriguing and lures us into a story about strenuous outdoor work and the often-overwhelming landscape.

Chatterton writes: “Nature creates us in such a way that we require contact, even though we are changed by it.” Sweetfern is a deciduous shrub which blueberry producers would like to get rid of, but it is a tenacious survivor. In this story it is also a metaphor.

“Eli-kisi-kikuhut Cihpolakon”/ “How the Eagle was Healed” is a personal essay by a Passasmaquoddy elder, Fredda Paul, who also is of Mik’maq ancestry. Mr.Paul rescued a bald eagle shot in the elbow of her wing. After the eagle was released, she and her mate returned to Mr. Paul’s house and circled it, “so close that [he] could feel the wind off their wings.”

As a Canadian who has visited the historic summer home of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Campobello Island, I was eager to read Stephanie S. Gough’s “Borderline”. Gough lives on this New Brunswick island of 900 people which is connected by bridge to the United States. “An international border has been the defining line in my life,” she writes. When she wants to go to a bar or gas up her vehicle she crosses a border. A third of the island is an international park jointly funded by the U.S. and Canadian governments. While her children are culturally more American than Canadian, “a part of us clings to Canada,” she writes. “We agree with universal health care, socialism, well-paid teachers. We don’t mind the taxes, but we like to smuggle our alcohol just the same.” The sudden requirement of passports for border crossings after 2001 forced “Campo-belloers” to determine their nationalities and in many cases, to become dual citizens.

At the end of “Turtle Island Turtle Rattle”, author Sarah Xerar Murphy writes, “If we cannot find a way to welcome and treat fairly with the stranger, how will we ever find our own way home?”It would be a good thing if there were more books like Three Nations Anthology, to highlight things that human beings have in common. It is available from Resolute Bear Press, P.O. Box 14, Robbinston, ME, USA 04671, 201-454-8026, resolutebearpress.com

About the reviewer: Ruth Latta is a Canadian writer whose most recent book is Grace and the Secret Vault (baico@bellnet.ca)