Queering Rural Canada, Nova Scotian Music, and Can Lit: A Review of Lucas Crawford’s SIDESHOW CONCESSIONS

sideshowconcessions-webLike 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).


Lucas Crawford, image via http://robmclennan.blogspot.ca

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.

About CaseytheCanadianLesbrarian

Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer and librarian who holds an MA in English literature. She lives and works in the unceded territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation (Nanaimo, BC). Topics and activities dear to her heart include cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer (Canadian) literature, running, and drinking tea. She runs the website Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, where you can find reviews of LGBTQ2IA+ Canadian books, archives of the book advice column Ask Your Friendly Neighbourhood Lesbrarian, and some other queer, bookish stuff. She also writes for Autostraddle. Find her on Twitter: @canlesbrarian. Some of her old reviews, especially the non-Canadian variety, can be found at the Lesbrary.
This entry was posted in Queer, Rural, Trans, Trans Masculine, Transgender and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Queering Rural Canada, Nova Scotian Music, and Can Lit: A Review of Lucas Crawford’s SIDESHOW CONCESSIONS

  1. omnivorebibliosaur says:

    Small town themes resonate strongly with me and I can’t wait to read this collection and find bits of home embedded in its pages. For the past couple years I’ve been straddling two spheres (working on an island and living in the urban grind), so at times I feel a super keen hunger for reflections of my small town, ruralish life (albeit from just across the US border) 🙂 Thank you for sharing this! I’ve been casting my net around for poetry collections and it isn’t always easy for me to find them.

    • You’re welcome! I grew up in a small town on the west coast and as I said in the review spent a lot of time in small town Nova Scotia where my ex is from, so I have a lot of affection for small towns too. This is a great collection for that!

  2. Naomi says:

    I don’t read many poetry collections, but this one sounds irresistible and one I should have in my collection of Atlantic Canadian books! Thanks for the review!

  3. Bina says:

    First of all: that cover!💜💜💜
    Also the poetry examples you posted are amazing and approachable, love it! Haha yeah I suppose the poetry scene too has the pretentious folks. I’m so bad with those, I never got the pretending to understand stuff thing. I only got into poetry by way of activist WOC poets, especially spoken word. Love spoken word so much✊ Great review! And all the best with your Patreon!!

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