Like the last poetry collection I reviewed (Vivek Shraya’s even this page is white), Lucas Crawford’s Sideshow Concessions is a wonderful reminder that there is fantastic poetry out there that is unpretentious and meaningful to the average person who doesn’t think they’re a poetry reader. Although quite different in style and content, both of those books felt proudly like poetry for the people, rather than poetry for the stuffy old white guys up in the ivory tower. Let me tell you all about it.
Trans queer performer and scholar Lucas Crawford—who the back of this book calls “both a bearded lady and the fattest man in the world”—is originally from rural Nova Scotia. I bring this up right away because Sideshow Concessions, in addition to all its fun circus themes, felt soooo Maritimes to me. I did my MA at Dalhousie in Halifax and I miss it all the time for many reasons. Actually, one of the things I love(d) most about the east coast (and I say this not as an expert but as someone who visited PEI and New Brunswick, and spent a fair bit of time on the south shore of Nova Scotia even after moving away as my ex’s family is from there) is how gloriously unpretentious it is. Sorry / not sorry Vancouver and the west coast (which is where I grew up, I might add). Sideshow Concessions so wonderfully exemplifies this down-to-earthness and it might me horribly “homesick” for the coast that I wish was actually my home.
But it’s not just that. I mean, there’s also a poem titled “Eating Chinese in Kingston, Nova Scotia (Population: 5174).” Another poem is dedicated to and speaks directly to Rita MacNeil. It also casually mentions Ashley MacIsaac and the Rankin Family. If you have no idea who any of those people are, you should click on those links and rectify the situation. Although I suspect if you’re not Canadian, especially a Nova Scotian, it might be hard to understand the cultural significance (and the nostalgia). Crawford begins “Failed Seances for Rita MacNeil (1944-2013)” like this:
Rita, you requested that your ashes
be held in a teapot—two if necessary, you said.
Low days, I browse plus-size caskets
(They are all pink or blue)
But you took death with
milk and sugar, long steep
Rita, we are both members
of the fat neo-Scottish diaspora.
The poem ends:
Rita, say anything.
Tell me we can break biscuits
with blueberries and Devonshire cream.
Tell me that you’ll let pitch-free me
hum along as you sing me to sleep.
Just don’t tell me
we didn’t exist. Don’t
tell me that you don’t
feel the same way too.
(If you don’t get the ending, you should probably listen to this song).
As you might have noticed in that first passage, there’s also a lot of great fat-positive content in this book. (For more, check out this post I did a while ago about fat-positive LGBTQ+ books, including Sideshow Concessions). I saw Crawford perform one of these poems at Reverb, a queer reading series in Vancouver, and it was fucking fabulous. I’ll just give you the first part of “One of My Thin Friends,” and then you’ll have to get the book to see the rest:
You don’t know embarrassment until someone has tried to fuck you in one of your fat folds, and of course I mean embarrassment for the other party and not myself. I felt bad for that person, but only because we were on camera. Can you imagine being documented for life as someone who couldn’t find the cunt of a morbid o-beast? Wouldn’t you just die? Wouldn’t you just curl up under a fat comforter with a fat teddy bear and watch some fat porn in order to study up and to shame-masturbate while you cry over your thin-minded folly?
I said there’s a lot of Nova Scotia-specific content in this collection, but there are also some great pan-Canadian allusions, some of which are really amazing. Especially as a former Canadian literature student, I found the poem “Canadian Literature Premises” completely hilarious. It includes such gems as:
The Weather Mirrors My Mood Once More, and Other Ways I’m God
Each Ring of This Majestic Maple Reminds Me of a Wrinkle on Ashley MacIsaac’s Dick
Roughing It in the Bush: An Anti-Colonial Lesbian Rewrite
The Ocean is Very Vast and When I Think About It, Small Seas Drop from My Eyes
Because You [Adjusted] Me: A Poetry Diary of Celine Dion’s Jaw-Cracking Chiropractor
And any small-town Canadian will identify with “Hometown.”
Welcome to a hometown, where everyone knows
about the Ninja Turtles sweater
of your second-grade school photos (classy with a skirt),
your name, address, inherent hair hue,
details of your first date, first kiss, first –
and they whisperhiss about your prescriptions
What should you do with your life?
Welcome to a hometown, where everyone knows.
Also, also, also: there is some great, healing content in here about depression, sometimes with the same cheeky humour that you find throughout the collection.
Even though there are lots of aspects of Crawford’s and my identities that don’t overlap, something about this poetry collection made me feel really seen. It made me feel like an insider, with the experiences about growing up in rural Canadian towns, the references to Nova Scotian musicians, the Can Lit jokes. It’s also a solid hit of nostalgia in many ways if you’re in the mood. When many of these cultural references are straight and cis-washed, it’s so refreshing to have a queer and trans poet like Lucas Crawford writing about them. These references are ours too, Crawford insists, while queering the fuck out of some of them. For that, Lucas Crawford, I salute you.
Bonus! Did you know I started a Patreon for Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian last week? Patreon is a site where creators of all sorts of things can make some money via subscription payments from their readers/etc. It can be as little as a dollar a month! Help me continue to be able to devote time to this site and you can win stuff like queer books and postcards with personalized book recommendations! Click on the link for more details and to sign up.