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Wednesday March 31, 2010 in Books


By Ken Belford

If language is an index of belonging, then Decompositions is the writing of an exile, a tribe of one.

For much of his life, Ken Belford has lived in the north, in the pristine region of the headwaters of the Nass River. His careful (de)compositions disclose the land as a complex living organism, articulate the names of it, see the whole of it. Yet the landscape of these poems is not a matter of latitude and longitude, but that unroaded place which begins at the edge of the rancher’s field, wherever that boundary is, and looks back at “civilization” with a vision and a voice that is unique and new. These poems catch their readers up in a surprising social engagement that is at once larger and other than the consumer discourse of trade and ownership.

The construction of the lyric in contemporary poetry is most often grounded in a gaze from shelter, out onto a common field that is captured, and thus appropriated—an “aboutism” or constructed estrangement of the other that is challenged by these decompositions of that sheltered and privileged “I.” For Belford, poetry is a social process that explores linguistic and political particulars from a gaze that is opposite to the shelters of convention, the academy, the city, or the south. It is a writing that rules out the anticipation and doubt of traditional narrative. These are not safe poems, they resist more than they assure.

While Belford’s self-taught language of subsistence isn’t aligned with the well-worn ancestral narratives of our forefathers, its sub-text remains rooted in questions of both origin and evolution, foregrounding a consciousness informed by the latest recognitions of science and technology. Uncolonized spaces are represented here not as a return to a golden age, but as bright openings to our undisclosed future.

Read a poem from this collection on Meta-Talon.

ISBN 13: 9780889226319 | ISBN 10: 889226318
6 W x 9 H inches | 96 pages
$16.95 CAN / $16.95 US
Rights: World
Backlist | Poetry | Bisac: POE011000


“The ‘story’ of nature is not in Belford’s poems – there are glimpses, nuances, discourses, collisions, but no romance and no pastoral gasp at the beauty of it all.”
Globe and Mail

“What a daring and necessary enterprise—to write one’s life in terms of the land and its ongoingness. Breaking down the borders between discourses and processes, we glimpse an astonishing interchangeability, the mingling and blending of a human life with the life of the land, the two going on in concert. A new story arising from the old ones.”
— The Goose

“Belford’s imagery manages to write the earth without falling to pure description or easy sentiment, instead including the landscape itself in an ongoing conversation, citing language, the body and how everything, eventually, falls apart.”
ARC Poetry Magazine

“full of stanzas dense as rainforest understory.”
— Canadian Literature


Shortlisted for the 2011 BC Book Prize: Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize

About the Contributors

Ken Belford

Ken Belford was born to a farming family in Alberta and grew up in Vancouver. For more than thirty years, he, along with his wife and daughter, operated a non-consumptive enterprise in the unroaded mountains at the vicinity of the headwaters of the Nass and Skeena Rivers.

The “self-educated lan(d)guage” poet has said that living for decades in the “back country” has afforded him a unique relationship to language that rejects the colonial impulse to write about nature, but attempts to write from nature and our relationship to the land.

slick reckoning

Ken Belford

Internodes cover

Ken Belford


Ken Belford

Copyright Talonbooks 1963-2018



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