A Slick Reckoning of Land and Page
Ken Belford is different. Only poetry could express the kind of difference the Prince George resident embodies and frame the different lan(d)guage he writes. His book, Slick Reckoning, just released by Vancouver publisher Talonbooks, is his eighth. His first book, Fireweed, was Talon’s very first publication in 1967, so it is a historic BC occasion for multiple reasons.
Belford wrote Slick Reckoning through cancer. It was one of the worse kinds of cancer and he wrote through the radiation and chemotherapy treatments that caused him to, according to the book, “hover near death.” What you have to know is Ken Belford is a very tough man. His time on Damdochax Lake north of Hazelton both informs his writing and primed his body for this challenge. And he beat the disease; he is cancer free and getting stronger every week.
And, I will say it again, he wrote a book through cancer. It is hard to believe. The book is not about cancer but cancer was part of the process. And the end result is a book that is smart and quick-footed and a continuation of Belford’s work through the last four books: ecologue, lan(d)guage, Decompositions and Internodes. Like these other books, Slick Reckoning charts the ways in which the nonconformist makes his way in the world:
I found my tools in an empty street,
found the money by accident,
watched anger, found company,
cracked open the systemic episodes
& deviated from the expected.
Belford “deviates” because of his background: part 1960s Vancouver, part Gitxsan, part unroaded spruce-balsam (“the mountains i’m fluent in”), part counter-colonial (“i haven’t been assimilated into the English field”). When he writes “i’m a traitor. i create ambiguities” he is referring to the ways his poems intervene and resist the narratives of racism (especially regarding First Nations) and misogyny (especially when he refers to “poetry wars” and “boy poetry gangs” that perpetuate sexism in the region). He finds these oppressive systems residing in the rhetoric of irony—the mean-spirited “argument cranky men use to explain their hate.” And he is not like these men, he resides on the outside: “Here’s to the illegitimate and ambiguous once again.”
It is Belford’s gentle awareness of social justice that I have come to admire most. He sees clearly the oppression that swirls in the pages and rooms of white men and searches for another path. He does this without violence or conflict—it is a turn away, a turn of phrase to choose anew. And he cares about the vulnerable in the system: “I wanted to write poems that were a form of safe housing.” He listens for the “northern BC rhythms” and sways with them. And he would have you come with.