A risky and profoundly unsettling work of “auto-cartography,” Mercenary English is a long poem that documents the author’s lived experience of the survival sex trade in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in the 1990s, using her time in the trade as a subversionary critical lens for exploring the physical, structural, and discursive violence of colonialism against Indigenous women and women of colour in its various instantiations. With its focus on the DTES – the neighbourhood Eng called home for two decades – Mercenary English foregrounds the literal and figurative violence behind the euphemism “missing women.” It staunchly resists the gentrification of Vancouver circa the 2010 Winter Olympics and the Olympic-Industrial Complex. It confronts the legacies of colonialism that continue to haunt the fragile “City of Glass.”
A strident and unsettling debut, Mercenary English quickly became a benchmark in Vancouver poetry and poetics. Originally published by CUE Books (2013), it seized the “politics of language” from the usual handlers and reassigned them to new terrains: the colonial battlefield, the racialized/radicalized body, and the insurgent neighbourhood. In its second edition (Mercenary Press, 2016), Mercenary English seized its own critical frames through the inclusion of a new afterword and an expansive conversation between Eng and poet/critic Fred Moten. Resonating in the streets and in the classroom, the book has been taught at post-secondary institutions across North America as poetry and in the context of decolonial theory.
In 2017, Talonbooks published Eng’s second collection of poetry, Prison Industrial Complex Explodes, which expounds upon certain themes and motifs found in Mercenary English. The two books make natural companions, and, as such, Talon is now pleased to publish this third edition, which includes the original text, Eng’s latest iteration of “how it is” (an ongoing poem-as-map), the afterword and interview from the second edition, and a new preface.