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On/Me

Francine Cunningham

Francine Cunningham lives with constant reminders that she doesn’t fit the desired expectations of the world: she is a white-passing, city-raised Indigenous woman with mental illness who has lost her mother. In her debut poetry collection On/Me, Cunningham explores, with keen attention and poise, what it means to be forced to exist within the margins. Cunningham does not hold back: she holds a lens to residential schools, intergenerational trauma, Indigenous Peoples forcibly sent to sanatoriums, systemic racism and mental illness, and translates these topics into lived experiences that are nuanced, emotional, funny and heartbreaking all at once. On/Me is an encyclopedia of Cunningham, who shares some of her most sacred moments with the hope to spark a conversation that needs to be had.

“Cunningham doesn’t pull her punches, but they are quick, stinging hits, capturing difficult realities, the in-between worlds of belonging and not, of bearing the assumptions that make us a part of a group or alone. The dangerous smoulder of her mind is masterfully harnessed to clarity, illuminating pain and turbulence without being tragic.”
—Eden Robinson, author of Trickster Drift

“Potent artistry, redolent with the beauty and bitterness of everyday life: each poem draws you in—compels you on to the next, yet you linger. Every page a chef-d’oeuvre—katawasisin!”
—Darrel McLeod, author of Governor General award-winning memoir Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age

“Francine Cunningham’s On/Me is a generous and arresting meditation on mental health, urban Indigeneity, and mixed-blood identity. These poems deftly explore contemporary conversations while remaining rooted in ancestral knowledge. Make no mistake, this is a song of resilience.”
—Carleigh Baker, author of Bad Endings

“In this collection, Francine Cunningham’s crisp and gorgeous poems take on so much of what it is to be a person: to consider the meaning of family, to experience grief, to live with mental illness, to eat KFC, to tease and to laugh. With pitch-perfect details, these poems get personal and emotionally universal, and show us how humour and love are the things that hold us together. These poems hold stories that need to be told.”
—Dina Del Bucchia, author of It’s a Big Deal!

“Despite being small, on/me takes some time to chew and digest. Cunningham has an intuitive knack for making a single image almost endlessly expansive. Even if a reader has processed the words on the page, the world the poet has constructed linger vividly in the reader’s mind.”
SADmag

“Although stark, the poems also display a wry sense of humour […] Engaging, expressive, and explosive poems.”
—Jonathan Ball, Winnipeg Free Press

Interview with Rob Taylor for National Poetry Month 2020 on Read Local BC:
“I realized a long time ago that I live in this in-between place and what I do with my art has to reflect that. Growing up it wasn’t a space that I ever read about or that people talked about. I felt really alone in this space. I felt like the thoughts and feelings I was having were not valid and made me a bad person, a bad Indigenous person. I’ve been working with Indigenous youth for close to fifteen years now and it has shown me that I am not alone in this in-between place.”

 

• Finalist for the Indigenous Voices Awards – Published Poetry (2020)

• Finalist for the inaugural Jim Deva Prize for Writing That Provokes (BC and Yukon Book Prizes 2019/2020)