Poetry | bit by bit, Leonarda Carranza

I usually try to keep my work life separate from my blogging life, but a couple of weeks ago, the Art Gallery of Mississauga (where I work) hosted a poetry event by a group of young writers whose words touched me on such a personal level that I wanted to share the experience. The group is called Pages on Fire, and their work explores themes of race and racism, love and oppression, body image and shame. I generally stay away from what I (unfairly) label as “message poetry,” and I admit poetry is in general not my genre of choice. But the range of works I heard that night, from the sharp edge of Renee McPhee’s “30 Lines by Beyonce” to the understated narrative power of Tina Chu’s poem on an immigrant family’s relationship with language (full disclosure: Tina is a close personal friend) takes the medium beyond its message. These are poems on race, oppression and so on, yes, but these are first and foremost, good poems from perhaps the next generation of Canadian poetry greats. 

Below is a poem by Pages on Fire organizer Leonarda Carranza. During the event, Carranza admitted she was reading this poem first, because she knew it would be difficult to get through. She was visibly choked up, and it took her several tries to get past the first verse. After the event, a woman approached her and said that she, too, was moved to tears by the reading. I love this poem for the subtle yet potent emotional wallop of the first couple of lines, which, by the end of the piece, have taken on a level of texture belied by the sparseness of the text.

[My apologies to Leonarda if WordPress messes up the text formatting. I tried to follow the spacing as best I could.]


bit by bit


bit by bit and step by step

Grandma teaches me about


Bit by bit

And step by step she teaches

And I learn

About the texture of indifference

What it feels like not to be wanted

not to be embraced or held

not to sit on her lap

Bit by bit

And step by step I learn

Not to expect a smile

Not to feel her

I don’t go to her when I’m afraid

I don’t ask for her when I am sick

And she teaches

like the mothers

and great-grandmothers that came before taught her

To stand back

To watch

As she offers herself and her love to

White and light skinned bodies

And bit by bit

And step by step

I learn about colour

– Leonarda Carranza

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