This meditation on the impact of human and ecological trauma explores the cost of survival for three generations of women living between empires. Writing from within the disappearing tallgrass prairie, Sarah Ens follows connections between the Russian Mennonite diaspora and the disrupted migratory patterns of grassland birds. Drawing on family history, eco-poetics, and the rich tradition of the Canadian long poem, Flyway migrates along pathways of geography and the heart to grapple with complexities of home.
Few poets have rendered the wrenching of war's dislocations with such intensity and beauty as Sarah Ens. Flyway is sorrow artfully spun into a lyric that mends as it quests, gathers, scatters, and laments. Her family's story of the all-too-common women's flight for survival emerges with intimacy and urgency. This book is a triumph for any time, but savour it now, as power and grace against a troubled world.—Julia Spicher Kasdorf, Shale Play Poems and Photographs from the Fracking Fields
Following the devastation and dislocation of war, Flyway is a haunting that becomes an inheritance. Tracing migrations both inexorable and precarious, with the tallgrass as her teacher, Sarah Ens creates a work of imagination wider than the horizon.
Flyway is a tender and urgent re-negotiation of place, displacement, memory, and war. The poems are elemental, touched by bread and metal, grass and stone.
Flyway situates itself as a poem in a biodiverse temporality where all species of home are rooted. Its address, 'O / downtrodden / stray,' directed to those scrambling for purchase on a soft ridge of song, is a balm so many people on the planet could use right now. The question that persists, that thrums beneath this poem is as simple and endangered as tallgrass: 'How do you remember home?'
Ens moves from grounding the family history in narrative to lifting it by the poetic devices of white space, line breaks, and the structure of open field. The result is highly effective: the details and gaps work in tension, the narrative like lines on the hydro pole that hold the lyricism, the poetry like birds rising from the wire, airborne.—Connie Braun, Journal of Mennonite Studies
'Birds, like poems, follow the river' – but one instance of a potent statement, set singularly on the page, a space that allows breath, the profound pacing of silences, holding the gaze with awe.—Catherine Owen, Marrow Review
This remarkable collection traces the ambiguous paths of survival and empire, in the movement of people and the movement of wind through grass.—McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award jury comments, Manitoba Book Awards
Throughout, the speaker is careful to not let her desire 'to be absolved in the homecoming/ ... / to be undone & remade, like my body is not a memory/ I keep confessing into some promise of land' to paper over the darkness of the migration story, but she holds all the context with tenderness and a grounded, careful touch.—Melanie Brannagan Fredericksen, Winnipeg Free Press
This is a collection of being and becoming, writing out what is lost, gained and abandoned; writing out what is inherited, and what can’t help but be carried across not only distances, but generations... In many ways, her lyric is akin to Cooley, writing a progression across the larger story of the rippling effect of emigration across two or three generations.—rob mclennan's blog
Asking questions that both clarify and expand ideas of land, identity and migration, this poem is a masterpiece in story and song, healing and hope, and the memory that is aflight within us all.—Nadya Langelotz, Heritage Posting
Ens's imaginative telling, supported by memories and thorough research, does what good historical fiction does: it puts flesh on history by bringing the stories of particular people to life. [And] her attentiveness, informed by research, results in questions that create an opening for the reader—an invitation to also ask, look, and listen.—Joanne Epp, Mennonite Historian
Ens creates a tallgrass psalmody, observing migratory birds nesting in the Manitoba prairie — 'I will try to tell the truth/to the blood feather tangled in the reeds' — interspersed with the story of her Oma’s flight (1929-1945) from Ukraine to Poland to Slovenia to Germany, here imagined by her granddaughter with the help of family history and letters. The resultant poem, stretching over 100 pages, reflects in its poetic line the psychological chaos. In the final psalmody, Oma’s question, 'How do you remember home?' becomes an anguished cry from the poet’s vantage point.—Raylene Hinz-Penner, Anabaptist World
Life is primarily about relationships—with each other, with the land. [Flyway] thinks about what happens when those connections are severed. How do you find home? How do you rebuild with what is left? In the section 'Un / Settling', Ens writes 'Aula Aunfong ess schwoa / All beginnings are hard'—and ultimately, the book ends with hope, as 'Here / is still something / of home' (102).
—Jesse Holth, Canthius
Situating the Mennonite resettlement narrative within the tallgrass prairie brings a new perspective and grounds the narrative in something earthy and real. The way the birds, grasses, and environment are interwoven throughout the narrative brilliantly connects this family myth to present-day reality.—Alyssa Sherlock, Mennonite Quarterly Review
On a line level, this book of poetry is full of sound and echoes and navigates incredibly well through different forms. Ens threads the poetry with questions that reverberate throughout the book, holding space for its many themes. Flyway also covers wide expanses of time and space quite deftly as it explores a multigenerational narrative arc while keeping the reader and poetry grounded.—Tazi Rodrigues, The Fiddlehead