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by Dallas Hunt

Dallas Hunt (Conor-McNally)

Dallas Hunt’s Teeth is a stirring follow-up to Creeland, his first book of poetry. In “Cree Dictionary,” from his debut collection, Hunt begins with a witty redefinition of terms: “the translation for joy / in Cree is a fried bologna sandwich” and “the translation for evil / in Cree is the act of not calling / your mother on a Sunday.” In this new collection of essayistic poems, the poet-scholar continues to redefine the nuances of contemporary life on his own terms.

In the opening poem, “ankwacas” (or “squirrel,” as translated in the brief glossary at the end of the book), Hunt reflects on the reality TV show Alone, in which contestants are dropped off in “remote” locations around the world to fend for themselves – whoever lasts the longest wins a large sum of money. In an episode that takes place on Vancouver Island, a starving contestant named Ray kills a squirrel with a bow and arrow after a Mojave-inspired trap fails. Reflecting on the contradictions of violence in life, Hunt quotes Ray:

“i don’t know why
i feel heartbroken
over this squirrel …
he treated me with an
uncommon familiarity
and i betrayed his trust.”

The poem is interspersed with a memory in which the speaker’s friend encounters a dead squirrel on the beach of a West Coast city:

nîtotem asks if
i would like to
stop and say
something, or
perhaps provide
an offering to
this deepsleeping
to which
i laugh
at the presumed
implication that,
because i am
cree, i will have
a prayer nested
in my pocket.

Hunt repeatedly unmasks several colonial tropes, such as those that represent Indigenous Peoples as living in harmony with nature. In “Poem for Everyone,” the speaker declares:

i’m tired of indian poems. imagine a poem that wasn’t about deer,
moose or salmon.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
a poem that sees us struggle
with our kin because we fight with one another. and once this colonial
edifice falls by the wayside we still have to grapple with the fact
that some of our relations are difficult.

The poems are heartbreaking in their struggle to eke out their own terms, but they do so with humour and poise, emphasizing the need to demolish narratives and stereotypes that prevent people from simply being themselves.

In “169 Anomalies,” Hunt interrogates the language used to describe unmarked graves of children at a former residential school in northern Alberta, ironically riffing on the “benevolence” of the state “with 169 bodies / in one acre / with two acres / left to search.” There is a lot of grief in this collection. But there is also love that is tender and expansive:

love is matter,
a crafting
out of misery
shooting stars
are chipped teeth
who walk along
your feet, play
with kongs
and watch youtube
blankly, eyes akimbo.

Teeth is an intimately written collection of poems dedicated to the complexity of Cree and Indigenous life. Through stand-up–comic humour, a dedication to joy, and a refusal to concede to the demands of palatable universality, Hunt reminds us that the limits of our language can be the limits of our worlds.


Reviewer: Shazia Hafiz Ramji

Publisher: Nightwood Editions


Price: $19.95

Page Count: 112 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-0-88971-452-6

Released: April

Issue Date: April 2024

Categories: Indigenous Peoples, Poetry, Reviews