Standing in a River of Time


Standing in a River of Time
Jónína Kirton
Talonbooks, 2022


Review by E.R. Zarevich


Jónína Kirton, an author of Red River Métis and Icelandic descent, was 61 when she received the 2016 Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award. Having discovered her voice as a poet later in life, she taps into her years of personal history for material and inspiration. Her poetic memoir, Standing in A River of Time, is a testament to the necessity of forging an emotional alliance with one’s distant ancestors, not just for the purpose of forming a solid identity, but for the process of healing from trauma—specifically, intergenerational trauma and colonial violence. 


The title of Kirton’s book reshapes the idea of a family tree into a body of water. The image of family lineage as a river becomes cleansing and is more mobile than something with unextractable roots. Kirton’s purpose, by producing and publishing such a literary work, is to move forward in a natural way, with her relatives ever-present as loving, ghostly companions.


Kirton’s narrative style alternates between prose and poetry—an appropriate way of telling this story, as the process of grief is a fluid experience that is rarely contained in a singular form. The prose sections are honest and straightforward, while the poems are freestyle—simultaneously intimate and unbound by convention. It is as if Kirton is allowing herself a break from her own individual story and inviting readers to explore raw emotions with her. “Untethered” is a prime example of this. When she writes “is it my blood that makes me wonder? the diaspora of my soul scattered,” she is voicing a common curiosity. To what extent do our backgrounds mould our morals and motives, and what is the potential for ancestors to guide us? Kirton challenges readers to confront their own family histories and discover their own answers to these questions by stepping into the river with her.