this discussion post is based on the readings from 04.09. You should focus specifically on “Photographs: An Auto-biography,” which is divided up into several sections based on the speaker’s age.
- Start by selecting one section (0, 8, 14, or 26).
- Inside this section, select one stanza to analyze at the word-level (example below). Your analysis should include a focus on:
- linguistics (what do individual words bring to the conversation)
- grammar (eg. punctuation or lack thereof)
- any relevant cultural connections (historical, MÃ©tis-specific, etc.)
- and an interpretation that takes these different components into account.
- Next, provide your interpretation for the whole section. You can continue to perform the word-level interpretations for the other stanzas or make broader claims that connect back to your more detailed analysis. However you choose to interpret the chosen section, you should continuously reference the text itself.
- If you’re quoting multiple lines, the method is to put a “/” between the lines.
- Finally, connect the section you chose to one of the other poems we’ve read from Passage. What did we learn abut Benaway (this is explicitly autobiographical) that helps us understand other poems we’ve read?
- Response lengths will vary, but aim for between 200-300 words. This is a more difficult task than the previous close reading, and if you want to talk through it, I encourage you to talk to your peers or reach out to me. It is an individual assignment though.
From “Terra Nullis”
“he isn’t anywhere. / terra nullis of the body, / but memory lives on, / it lulls the water” (Benaway 13).
The word “lulls” suggests a sense of calm, of peace. The term “terra nullis” is Latin, and means “nobody’s land.” From a linguistic perspective, this phrase echoes the absence of the previous line. The lover is absent, and land that was nobody’s would imply a similar absence. Historically, this phrase is significant because it names a concept used to justify colonization in which land was considered empty (not occupied or not part of a sovereign state) and therefore available for settlement and control. When Indigenous peoples were dehumanized, settlers could claim the land was unoccupied, and denying Indigenous sovereignty to their lands set a legal precedent for occupation and exploitation. In this stanza, the line therefore does more than simply echo the lover’s physical absence; it connects his absence to the legacy of colonization. In the poem more broadly, this allows Benaway to move between personal struggles in the last stanza on page 13 – her divorce, financial hardships, and the physical pain of her boat trip – to communal struggles of genocide and forced relocation (13-14). I would argue that she’s not equating them since she clearly conveys the scope of colonization in multiple stanzas. However, she is suggesting it’s normal to fill individual pain and focus on that, something that sometimes gets lost in larger political conversations. Yes, she’s MÃ©tis and Anishinaabe, but she’s also a human being who’s gone through a divorce and a trans woman who faces constant marginalization. I’d suggest she’s advocating for a more multifaceted understanding of people or at the very least claiming her own complex legacy and lived experience. This understanding informs many of her poems. For instance, her poem “Difficult” addresses the difficulty of being a trans woman when she states that, “I would go home, / if it existed, if I wasn’t trans / and abandoned by God,” her reliance on alcohol – needed “excuses to drink” – and her Indigenous heritage, implied in the discussion of sovereignty at the end of the poem (15). The term sovereignty in “Difficult” functions similarly to that of “terra nullis” in “Terra Nullis” by connecting the personal to the communal/political/historical and exemplifies the work poetry can do in addressing pain and injustice on multiple levels.