Straggle MacDonald walks the reader down many paths, pointing out the sights, exclaiming over birds, sharing stories and asking questions about who gets to walk freely through our cities, parks and wilderness. These essays share the joy and danger of walking, and uncover its promise of healing, companionship and understanding.
"Tanis MacDonald walks her world as 'the ever-shifting all' of her, curious, wise, witty, thoughtful and engaging. Meander with this fine writer in the real and the imaginary; prepare to be provoked, inspired, gutted and joyful. Straggle is a marvel of a book: follow its fascinating trails."
"...curious, wise, witty, thoughtful and engaging..."
"Straggle is a poetic and illuminating collection of essays on the various paths that are open and closed to women – some dangerous, others freeing; some excluding us and others purportedly for everyone. I learned a lot from Tanis MacDonald’s wide-ranging and singular perspectives on everything from roadkill to stalkers to new ways of looking at birds. I held my breath while reading this book and at other times I laughed out loud. We should all be so lucky to have MacDonald as our strolling companion."
"In 33 short pieces [...] MacDonald wanders through wilderness (parks and managed forests, she confesses), cityscapes and time. She ponders the risks and dangers from nature and humankind, the pain and physical limitations that challenge her body, and the trauma she experiences as an assault survivor, soothed by walking. Alongside the discomfort, the collection offers beauty, awe, defiance and even humour."
"This contemplative rendition on walking stands apart from what has come before it..."
MOBILE is an uncivil feminist reboot of Dennis Lee’s Civil Elegies and Other Poems; an urban lament about female citizenship and settler culpability; an homage to working and walking women in a love/hate relationship with Toronto, its rivers and creeks, its sidewalks and parks, its history, misogyny and violence. How do we, in Lee’s words, see the “lives we had not lived” that “invisibly stain” the city? What are the sexual politics of occupying space in a city, in a workspace, or in history? How can we name our vulnerabilities and our disasters and still find strength?.
"I love how MacDonald argues with the canon…I laughed at her remaking of lyrics and common phrases into rebellious catch phrases. I delighted in Crazy Jane, the Bluestockings, the word play and the sheer fun of the book. At the same time, I appreciated her engagement with the dangers encountered by women and I felt outrage at the injustice of women's treatment. We cannot walk alone. We are threatened in our workplaces. This is a feisty and playful book that resists the long-held notion that women should be mollified and docile….I highly recommend this book for everyone who is fucking sick of the patriarchy.”"
"...a feisty and playful book that resists the long-held notion that women should be mollified and docile"
"These poems performatively perturb our complacencies: toward city, land, plant, women, and men. With her sybil voice full of sass but never lacking civility, MacDonald forages the city for women’s lives and names, knocking not on heaven’s door but on the tombs where our world is heading. Confronting barriers of attitude and strcture that women face daily, full f sounds and verve, Mobile is a deft counterpoint to Dennis Lee's long-ago Civil Elegies. Pick up this Mobile, readers; it's ringing and it's no robocall!"
"...a deft counterpoint to Dennis Lee's long-ago Civil Elegies"
- Erin Mouré is a winner of the Governor General's Award for Poetry and the author of The Elements (House of Anansi Press)
"With delightfully subversive wordplay and intertextual sleight of hand, Tanis MacDonald wanders the text of the modern city, exploring its civil energies with intelligence, incision, compassion, music, ferocity and wit. A Sibyl’s elegies for the civil legacies of the past, these feisty poems interrogate the mansplaining streets, finding the always-there voices and experiences of women in its architecture and shadows, curbs and enthusiasms, structures and strictures, its texts and traditions, violence and vibrance, twists and détournes. Go with MacDonald as she guides you through the streets of Mobile. It's a tour de force."
"...a tour de force."
- Gary Barwin, winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour for his novel Yiddish for Pirates (Penguin Random House Canada)
In Out of Line: Daring to be an Artist Outside the Big City, poet and professor Tanis MacDonald draws on her years of experience teaching writing at a small university, where students often asked her how they can “be writers,” to hold a magnifying glass up to artistic communities and demystify artistic practice. In chapters that mix scholarly and literary approaches she exposes the issues of class and access to the arts that beset these communities, while welcoming artists of any age or background into them. With warmth, humour and a willingness to share her own successes and artistic missteps, MacDonald has written a book in which she explains that we all deserve “every brushstroke, every high note, every leap into the air…. Every word.”
"MacDonald has written a book for the daring, the uninitiated, the outsider in the Canadian literary arts world. She examines the experience of being various forms of other—rural small town (from the "boonies"), a woman in a male-dominated writing workshop, a working-class student among the silver-spoon crowd—but the dual lungs of this book are its expression of grassroots arts community building and MacDonald's brilliant and heartwarming classroom pedegogy. Drawing on her varied experience, MacDonald creates a portrait of the education of the artist, a non-fiction Künstlerroman, or artist's novel, for twenty-first century Canada."
"MacDonald creates a portrait of the education of the artist."
- Dr. Budde teaches Creative Writing at the UNBC and is the author of Dreamland Theatre (Caitlin Press)
"It’s no exaggeration to say that Dr. MacDonald’s Creative Writing (Poetry) course changed my life. Her well-crafted assignments, along with her encouragement, pushed my writing beyond what I believed I could do; in her class, for the first time, I wrote poems that I actually thought were “good.” My arsenal of writing techniques, revision skills, and confidence grew to the point where I was comfortable declaring myself a writer. I began to share my work with others and submit to literary journals, which has since led to publication."
"I now feel like I belong to a literary community — a community that began in Dr. MacDonald’s class."
- Katie McGarry, winner of the Room Magazine Short Forms Contest, 2018
"In Out of Line, Tanis MacDonald has written a masterpiece of exhortation. With generosity, practical and political sensibility, using her own outsider story in smooth conversational prose, she addresses the social and emotional tangles of the unprivileged beginner artist, the writer or painter or dancer who has grown up outside art’s inner circles. Read this book if you want to become an artist. Read this book if you are already an artist. Read this book if you wonder why anyone wants to become an artist. This book has something to teach us all. This is a book for everyone."
"Read this book if you are already an artist. Read this book if you wonder why anyone wants to become an artist."
"I had high expectations going into the reading of this book. Unfairly high. And not because a few of my words appear in its pages. I wanted this book to be everything the cover claims and more. I wanted this book to be the book I needed to read when I started out. Turns out this is also the book I needed to read now. It's beyond phenomenal."
"...the book I needed to read when I started out"
- Brenda Schmidt, Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan 2017 - 2018
Tanis MacDonald’s memoir via instruction, Out of Line: Daring to be an Artist Outside the Big City, is now available from Wolsak and Wynn. Tanis is also a co-editor (with Ariel Gordon and Rosanna Deerchild) of the multi-genre anthology GUSH: menstrual manifestos for our times (Frontenac House), and her book The Daughter’s Way (WLUP, 2012) was a finalist for the Gabrielle Roy Prize. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in Tessera, Prairie Fire, Studies in Canadian Literature, Hamilton Arts and Letters, The New Quarterly, and in Far and Wide: Essays from Across Canada (Pearson), and in the forthcoming anthology Far Villages (Black Lawrence Press). She is the author of three books of poetry, with a fourth, Mobile, now available from Book*hug.
"Learning to make art – or learning to trust that you are making art – when you come from an artless place is not easy. In the hits and misses, we find the shape of our practice."
“Bringing her keen poet’s eye to the essay form, her approach is lyrical and wide-ranging, examining the privileges and exclusions of the simple stroll, and asks us to consider who gets to navigate the world freely and who does not. The natural world and our connection to it is a primary focus, but these essays – and the poems interspersed throughout them – prove that nature writing can go well beyond the traditional: 'I will add the possibility of nature writing as disability writing, as feminist worldview and as assault survivor narrative.'
"Straggle certainly acknowledges walking’s myriad benefits, but what is more striking is how it details walking’s limitations – both in the fallibility of the human body and in the constraints the world imposes upon that body. As an assault survivor, MacDonald has first-hand experience with the healing power of movement, but she poignantly acknowledges the threat and very real fear public spaces can bring to people like her.”
“In this wide-ranging collection of essays Tanis MacDonald walks the reader down many paths, pointing out the sights, exclaiming over birds, sharing stories and asking questions about just who gets to walk freely through our cities, parks and wilderness. Deer move mysteriously through these essays, knowing just when they vanish from sight, as do predators, both human and animal. She walks to begin to understand the place she now calls home in Southern Ontario, catalogues the fauna around her in FaunaWatch and continues walking through illness.”
“From a child spotting a snowy owl on her way to school in Winnipeg, to a young woman watching her own distinctive walk be imitated in an acting class, to a worried daughter helping her mother relearn how to walk after a bad fall on a busy road, MacDonald shares how walking has shaped her life and the lives of many others. Wry, smart, political and lyrical, these essays share the joy of walking as well its danger and uncovers the promise it offers — of healing, of companionship and of understanding.”
39 Works of Canadian Nonfiction to Watch for in Spring 2022 CBC Books
“The other thing I say in Out of Line after ‘if you don't have community, art will break your heart’ is your heart will be broken anyway, eventually, but it's better with community. You will recover faster and you won't die of heartbreak if you have community.”
“Emily Urquhart returns to Watershed Writers, but this time she’s guest hosting to interview Tanis MacDonald for her new book, Straggle: Adventures in Walking While Female, which is about walking as a way of relating to the world, to each other and to memory.” (Watershed Writers presents in-depth conversations with local writers living and writing in the Grand River watershed area.)
“In GUSH, more than 100 women and nonbinary writers from Canada and around the world take apart the bloody instruction of menstruation: its cultures, its lessons, its equipment, and its lexicon. GUSH offers menstrual manifestos for our time that question the cultural value and social language of monthly blood loss, with rage, humour, ferocity, and grief, and propose that the menstrual moment is as individualized, subjective, personal, political, and vital as the feminist click. With work from emerging and senior writers in poetry, cartoons, flash fiction, personal essays, lyric confessions, and experimental forms, this anthology features the voices of Indigenous writers, writers of colour, writers with disabilities, rural writers and urban writers, representing four generations of menstruators: writers who call down their bloodiest muses.”
“Mobile’s strength lies not so much in its emotion, though MacDonald at times elicits that too, as in the poems that follow Jane’s apotheosis in the second section. Rather, the voice of this Mobile crackles with a sometimes-caustic humour, with wordplay, music, and confidence throughout. It speaks to us not merely as if from across the airwaves, but as if fully animated by a body in motion, asking what it means to take up city and citizenship in a female form.”
“Who better than a poet to orchestrate uncommon magic on a gray Saturday morning in the heart of the noisy city? Poet Tanis MacDonald took a handful of us lucky souls on a journey on just such a morning in Toronto. Dressed for soggy, brisk conditions with the possibility of more rain, we walked from Broadview subway station south to Riverdale Park, across the park to a footbridge over the busy Don Valley Parkway. On the other side of the bridge, we slipped onto the Lower Don River Valley Trail … and into another world..”
Tanis MacDonald wrote a short essay on how she came to poetry, prompted by Susan Gillis on her blog Concrete and River: "I started writing poetry because it was impressionistic and weird and a bit mysterious: a lens in front of a screen behind a veil in a stormcloud. It made sense only when you looked at it from all sides."
Susan Gillis followed up with some excellent questions about Mobile. Here's part of Tanis MacDonald's reply:
"I wanted to examine women taking up public space, beginning with what it could mean for a woman to move through the city of Toronto as she moves through difficult mental and emotional spaces. Writing Mobile was a long engagement with a cascading series of questions about strength and vulnerability."
“MacDonald offers a virtuoso display of poetic craft…her poems consistently mix fearlessly intellectual elements with passages rich in lyric resonance.”
Jamie Dopp in The Malahat Review
"Fired with a signature intelligence, these shrewdly honed, sometimes volatile poems invoke us to give them our closest attention."
John Barton, author of Asymmetries
The Daughter's Way
“Original, absorbing, and long-overdue critical examination of the way Canadian female poets have written against the grain of the male elegiac tradition. MacDonald’s scholarly conversation with these works is an important step in understanding the contrary energies of feminist remembrance.”
Sarah Henstra, author of The Red Word
"The Daughter’s Way represents a new way of understanding Canadian women’s poetic elegies….a compelling and precisely focused engagement with gender, genre, and nation. MacDonald (herself a poet) brings a rich understanding of the importance of poetic form."
Gabrielle Roy Prize Committee Finalist for Gabrielle Roy Prize/Prix Gabrielle-Roy (2013)
The Malahat Review Open Season Winner, creative non-fiction, 2021 for “Mondegreen Girls”
"'Mondegreen Girls' is a surprising, charming and original piece of writing which explores our complex relationship to language and meaning. As a reader, I am easily moved by writing that is emotive and raw, however, I’m much less likely to feel moved by writing that also makes me laugh. This piece had me laughing out loud, then totally compelled by its resonances of loss. Written with acuity and warmth, we are invited to glimpse a fleeting girlhood, the loss of a loved one, and a moment in time encapsulated by a shared reverence for music and misunderstandings of song lyrics. This essay was both stirring and evocative, masterfully working with humour to delve deeply into our human desire to seek understanding, while simultaneously running away from it."
Tanis’s list of recommended books about walking and place, Walk On Over featuring works by Erin Moure, Dionne Brand, Phoebe Wang, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Nalo Hopkinson, Ariel Gordon Daniel Coleman, and Oliva Laing. With thanks to Kerry Clare for asking for the list.
Of the three poems of mine in The Rusty Toque (one of Canada's most prestigious on-line literary magazines), only "It's hard to get published in the The Journal of Irreproducible Results" takes a real scientific journal as a central metaphor.
Many Gendered Mothers is a project on literary influence featuring short essays by writers (of any / all genders) on the women, femme, trans, and non-binary writers who have influenced them, as a direct or indirect literary forebear. My essay on Alice Munro, "The Writer Next Door" is excerpted from Out Of Line, my latest work launching in May 2018.
Co-edited by Ariel Gordon, Tanis MacDonald, and Rosanna Deerchild, GUSH (available for pre-order now!) offers menstrual manifestos for our time that question the cultural value and social language of monthly blood loss, with rage, humour, ferocity, and grief, and propose that the menstrual moment is as individualized, subjective, personal, political, and vital as the feminist click. GUSH launches at McNally-Robinson Grant Park in Winnipeg June 2, 2018.
The Daughter's Way (2012); paperback Fall 2018
Investigating negotiations of female subjectivity in 20th century Canadian women’s elegies with a special emphasis on the father’s death as a literary and political watershed. The book examines the work of Dorothy Livesay, P.K. Page, Jay Macpherson, Kristjana Gunnars, Lola Lemire Tostevin, Anne Carson, and Erin Mouré as elegiac daughteronomies ― literary artifacts of mourning that grow from the poets’ investigation into the function and limitations of elegiac convention.
Rue the Day (2008)
Tanis MacDonald torques time and consciousness to scrutinize "what plagues us/what snaps our heads to/rights and won't let us look/at look over look alive." Written in the voices of a demanding "speaking subject" -- a fury with a harpy's vision and a muse's asperity -- and the woman writer whom the Fury takes under her terrible wing, Rue the Day is an elegy, an argument about the knowledge, and a conversation about contemporary femininity that shuttles between the frame of form and the long declarative line.
Nominated for the Mary Scorer Award for Best Book by a Manitoba Publisher (Manitoba Writing and Publishing Awards)."Tanis MacDonald probes the miracles, accidents, dumb luck, and rogue chromosomes that swirl beneath the surface of who we think we are. MacDonald weaves folklore, history and myth while keeping her cowboy boots firmly planted on Canadian soil." ~ Jeanette Lynes, author of The Small Things that End the World.
Sass: Poems (2001)
Sass is Tanis' third chapbook, produced by Victoria's Transparent Press in 2001. This rare, hand-bound collector's item contains fourteen of the sassiest poems ever written on Vancouver Island, and the eyes on the soulful tomato see it all. Sass was produced in a limited run of numbered copies.
Holding Ground (2000)
“Holding Ground is a book of jaunty wit and playful reworkings of history’s lost women, expertly realized in a myriad of poetic voices and forms. But when her poetic ground is grief and loss, Tanis MacDonald’s craft soars-and takes us earthward again, to re-learn the lessons of love in a life that is “engraved with dying,” to re-learn that our closest connections can both wound and heal us.”
~ Maureen Hynes, author of Marrow, Willow (2011)
Breathing November (2000)
Published by Winnipeg's Staccato Press and a summer-long favourite on the Literary Network's "Top Ten Canadian Chapbooks" for 1999. These poems are a series of elegies for people who have died of AIDS. I spent several years working in the AIDS community in Toronto, both as a volunteer and a professional. Sometimes this is a sad book, but like most elegies it's really about inheritance and the force of knowledge.
This Speaking Plant (1997)
This Speaking Plant won the 1996 Acorn-Rukeyser Award, the first year the prize was awarded. It was published by Unfinished Monument Press in Hamilton, which is run by the tireless efforts of James Deahl, one of the people who keep the people's poetry tradition alive in Canada.