Land Matters is a long poem written by Sanita Fejzić with sections turned into cine videos by Ludmylla Reis. A call for action and healing of the social and ecological violence that plague our world, Land Matters is above all else a love letter to the human and other-than-human assemblages we are entangled with.
Land Matters is a long poem divided into five sections: (1) Mothers’ Wombs (2) Mothers’ Wounds (3) Land Matters (4) Return to Motherland and (5) Becoming Worthy of Mother Earth. Its shadow text, T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, was also a long poem with five sections. Land Matters was written as a queer and ecofeminist response to The Waste Land. If T.S. Eliot’s poem shows us how war, trauma, death and disillusionment following WWI changed the way we think, write and relate, Land Matters takes this disillusionment one step further by showing how the machinery of war is entangled with neoliberalism, mass consumerism and human exceptionalism that have ushered us into the Anthropocene, our present epoch characterized by human systems and activities that have precipitated global mass species extinction, climate change, high ocean acidification levels and staggering pollution and toxicity levels.
Land Matters focuses on contemporary dilemmas around human and nonhuman relations from Fejzić’s situated perspective as an androgynous lesbian, secular Muslim refugee from Bosnia & Herzegovina and immigrant-settler in Canada. In Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, Judith Butler suggests that being in mourning, listening and vulnerability may arrest cycles of violence and shed light on our interdependence with distant others (151). The editors of Art in the Anthropocene claim that climate change, mass species extinction and the threat of our own extinction call for “new modes of address, new styles of … authoring, and new formats and speeds of distribution” (David and Turpin). This is precisely what Land Matters attempts to do at the level of form and content.
In finding new images and syntax for other-than-human agency, Land Matters grounds itself in attitudes that enhance our desire for social ecological justice and co-belonging. Interspecies flourishing demands a coming together, a commitment to what Rita Wong calls “the union of the living” (undercurrent, 27). This union, Land Matters suggest, asks of us to courageously accept past trauma in order to transform it in the way Louise Bourgeois means it, as a physical-psychosocial experience of co-healing (Destruction of the Father / Reconstruction of the Father).
In this excerpt of land matters from the section “Frontenac Forest,” a lyrical first person “I” speaks of queer bodies and desires in and of Bob’s Lake, a body of water that welcomes, cleanses and unites them:
In an earlier section, “Landing and Settling in Ottawa,” the same speaker confronts relationship to land from the point of view of an immigrant family
Landing and Settling in Ottawa
strapped, startled, a little drunk,
my mother and father inhale in Bosnian,
and exhale like people used to final breaths.
If our passports, visas, Gameboys, Canadian dollars,
with the rest
of the plane
at least our dreams soared sky high,
aerial, above the Atlantic and its white knuckles.
At least if we plummet and crash,
we are guaranteed
a fast, torture-free
I am old at seven, ancient at thirteen, surrendered
the country of childhood early, my youth
stolen by each border crossed clandestinely.
Our first legal entry as immigrants
aged me by several years, if not decades.
The children of refugees and immigrants
lose a year for each time a parent’s back breaks,
a year per rotten tooth, another for spirits
drained down the kitchen sink,
and another for stunted dreams, strained
hopes for a better future that never arrives, hanging
on the wall like unrecognized university degrees.
Immigrant parents are welcomed into factory lines,
flushed when jobs are exported to China.
They are invited to stand all day long
as minimum wage cashiers and janitors,
work night shifts as security guards,
or on call superintendents. Bienvenued
into retirement homes to wipe, clean
and scrub the bodies of neglected elders,
like they scrub fancy hotel rooms, hoping for a tip.
Our parents, who must enact immigrant gratitude
for the yearly twenty-five cents pay increase.
My parents have little left to give
except their expectations.
I am their hope. This poem
bears the burden of their immigrant hopes.
However, Land Matters subverts the singular, autonomous and separate “I” so imbedded in Western individualism and its systems of classification and division. It is a multi-voiced poem that not only makes space for other humans but also other-other-humans. The lovingly and ironically titled section, “Return to Motherland” ends with a black bear, one of the many animals that co-exist and speak in Land Matters:
She hugs the ravine at its breast,
drinks and eats,
lots and lots of bursting blueberries, lingers
with the wind and sleeps, satiated.
A brown bear doesn’t know the line
between Bosnia and Slovenia, doesn’t care
to alphabetize and map men’s cruelties.
But her bones know this mountain,
this river, this and that tree,
which her back scratches readily.
This is the forest her mother fled
when bombs blasted
the precarious safety
of brown bears.
No bee will enter another’s hive,
and no bear will disturb another’s wintry cave,
but she has seen men sit and discuss
how to ravage a neighbour’s wife,
before or after their meal.
Crossing paths with one of them
is to massacre peaceful steps,
mute the forest of her mind.
Land Matters has been written in its first draft by the time the Environmental Racism is Garbage Symposium goes live. Once complete, it will exist as a book of poetry, cine poems and an interactive website.
Sanita Fejzić is an award-winning writer, poet and emerging playwright, as well as a PhD Candidate in Cultural Studies at Queen’s University. Land Matters is her research-creation long poem exploring the social and ecological grief as a result of living in warring and wasteful hyper-consumer societies.
Ludmylla Reis is a poetic storyteller whose theatrical and film work finds beauty in life through the experiences of underrepresented narratives. Ludmylla believes that exploring our emotions and beliefs is a political act. They view their work as an art that must reach beyond reality and bring us back to our dreams.