Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book


Rate this book
In her second collection of poetry, Passage, Gwen Benaway examines what it means to experience violence and speaks to the burden of survival. Traveling to Northern Ontario and across the Great Lakes, Passage is a poetic voyage through divorce, family violence, legacy of colonization, and the affirmation of a new sexuality and gender. Previously published as a man, Passage is the poet's first collection written as a transwoman. Striking and raw in sparse lines, the collection showcases a vital Two Spirited identity that transects borders of race, gender, and experience. In Passage, the poet seeks to reconcile herself to the land, the history of her ancestors, and her separation from her partner and family by invoking the beauty and power of her ancestral waterways. Building on the legacy of other ground-breaking Indigenous poets like Gregory Scofield and Queer poets like Tim Dlugos, Benaway's work is deeply personal and devastating in sharp, clear lines. Passage is a book burning with a beautiful intensity and reveals Benaway as one of the most powerful emerging poets writing in Indigenous poetics today.

120 pages, Paperback

First published December 15, 2016

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Gwen Benaway

8 books81 followers
Gwen Benaway is a bisexual feminist Gemini trans girl of Anishinaabe and Métis descent. She has published three collections of poetry, Ceremonies for the Dead and Passage, and Holy Wild. Her fourth collection of poetry, Aperture, is forthcoming from Book*hug in Spring 2020. Her writing has been published in many national publications, including CBC Arts, Maclean’s Magazine, and the Globe and Mail. She is currently editing an anthology of Fantasy short stories by trans girl writers and writing a book of creative non-fiction, trans girl in love. She lives in Toronto, Ontario and is always open to auditioning new Queer polyam feminist lovers, as long as they believe in Astrology and are not a Taurus. She is currently a Ph.D student at the University of Toronto in the Women and Gender Studies Institute.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
52 (50%)
4 stars
38 (37%)
3 stars
8 (7%)
2 stars
4 (3%)
1 star
0 (0%)
Displaying 1 - 27 of 27 reviews
Profile Image for exorcismemily.
1,265 reviews335 followers
May 20, 2019
"I wish it was Christmas / I need twinkle lights / and excuses to drink."

Passage was my introduction to Gwen Benaway and I loved this book. The poems are honest, intense, bold, and dark. I am grateful that Gwen decided to share this story. There's a lot of pain in this book, and she discusses it so beautifully. I highly recommend picking up this poetry collection.
Profile Image for CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian.
1,154 reviews1,465 followers
May 16, 2017
One of the most moving parts of Benaway’s essay on cultural appropriation and erasure in Canadian literature is one of the final sentences: “Good art is not an act of violence but an extension of love.” This is without a doubt what she has accomplished in Passage, an infinitely generous, vulnerable, and beautiful book that shows just what wonderful work readers have access to when Indigenous writers are given a platform to tell their own stories. Check out my full review here.
Profile Image for Nathaniel.
414 reviews51 followers
May 30, 2017
when I ask
to be seen

and everyone can’t,
I don’t let them,

look away, my face
shiny like a bruise

before it disappears,
when I come back

and open the doors
to light, the winter air;

that brief illumination
of my damaged selves,

this is the moment
I dream of now,

which isn’t vengeance
nor redemption, nor rescue

just returning
to what I lost,

the sovereignty of truth,
of saying it happened

the universe admitting
it let me down and here

I am, not whole
but yes, still here

ready and willing
to be seen.

(from “Rescue”)

holy shit.
Profile Image for Hannah.
245 reviews
April 1, 2017
i need to read this collection at least one thousand and one more times to let it sink in, really. there are a thousand and one journeys and loves and knowings and undoings. i appreciated the simplicity of the structure benaway chose for this collection: a part for each great lake, short lines, consistent lengths of stanza in visual rhythm without constraint or force. leanne betasamosake simpson's blurb said it best, really: "with equal parts warm light and bone raw, this stunning collection burns away the legacy of erasure and upheaval. if the lake could write poetry, this collection would be it."
Profile Image for Kate.
135 reviews23 followers
November 7, 2018
This is an Own Voices Trans Two-Spirit Indigenous Canadian book of poetry, and it is FUCKING AMAZING. Organized into sections dedicated to the Great Lakes, Benaway explores grief, abuse, colonization, desire, sexuality, and gender. Her writing is simultaneously sparse and vivid, luxurious and simple, and it moves and flows like the water it seems to be inspired by.

My personal favorites were 'Trout', 'Self-Love B', 'Trans', 'River', and especially 'Lake Erie', because I grew up on that lake and it felt like going back to my childhood. I felt a specific connection to Benaway in 'Lake Erie' that went beyond sympathy or compassion - it was complete empathy, complete understanding of what she was saying, and it was absolutely beautiful.

Please read this collection.
Profile Image for Melissa Graham.
48 reviews1 follower
February 1, 2018
Poetry is not a shortcut.
Not an unmotivated checkmark
The word are not for me
The pain and the water reminds me
Call and answer
Profile Image for Meg.
1,347 reviews14 followers
March 15, 2017
Anishinaabe + Metis + trans + abuse + small town fundamentalist parents + surviving the city knowing people want to kill you + love + this wonderful water imagery as the poems are collected into sections names after the great lakes. I should read more poetry.
Profile Image for LdyGray.
951 reviews19 followers
September 2, 2017
An intense, raw, beautiful book of poetry by a Two-Spirited Trans poet of Anishinaabe and Metis descent. She chronicles her life in all its joy and pain, and does so in in credibly moving ways. Benaway is a voice well worth reading.
520 reviews14 followers
February 10, 2017
I feel weird about reviewing books of poetry on goodreads, because really, I don't know shit about poetry. But Passage by Gwen Benaway is a breathtaking collection, and you should read it.
Profile Image for Alexis.
Author 7 books134 followers
June 12, 2018
A poignant, powerful and beautiful book of poetry on the north, lakes, waters, and being trans and indigenous. Loved this.
Profile Image for Eaton Hamilton.
Author 45 books70 followers
May 16, 2017
Call me a fan. Mapping by water, Gwen Benaway, a two-spirited trans writer of Anishinaabe and Métis descent, brings us a brave and powerful second poetry title broken into ancestral waterways: Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake Superior. Benaway is an uncluttered writer, but her work is powerful in its simplicity, whether talking about her dad’s abuse, being a trans child, race, sex, love, heartbreak or the legacy of colonization.
Profile Image for Dana Neily.
150 reviews
May 12, 2017
There are some real gems in here but mostly I found the style a little too sparse and didn't quite get enough out of most of the poems. Still worth reading if you have interest in gender diversity and the experiences of trauma.
167 reviews1 follower
February 18, 2021
Painful reading this after the allegations about Gwen. A wonder what my rating would have been if I had not know about the controversy?

Regardless I did not like the two-line poem format - found it difficult to read. I did like the poem that wondered if immortals transitioned.
Profile Image for b.
520 reviews21 followers
May 2, 2018
I misplaced this book of poetry around Christmas time, found it again just last week, and am very grateful to have found it and finished it. I think Gwen’s work is strongest when it’s plain, direct, and less evocative of ‘poet’s poetry,’ often the endings to poems that feel summed in the final lines, or rushed to get out of (e.g.: “i know only desire / as a trout knows the shore, / in death, defeat, / and a fisher’s lure,” the rest of the poem preceding it so much more visceral, queer, and not undermined by this slant rhyme, which might have its place in a poem full of stylistic play, of consistent humour).

These ‘expected’ moments are rare, and the work runs the range from quotidian insight to polemical proofs. The wonder in the voice(s?) is really the best kind of poetry, the what if, the dedication to a thought of ‘what if’ like in “Death,” where “I wonder if immortals transition, / a vampire in heels at MAC, / looking for flawless coverage, / powder to soften cheekbones.”

I think there’s probably a lot of sections in the book that don’t reveal themselves to a settler who is reading it, and that’s not a bad thing, it’s an important thing probably even, where “our history dissolves / when they try to fathom it.”

It’s a book with a lot of suffering but a lot of joy too, and it makes me feel like celebrating myself and everyone around me, like coming out of a big winter, “when spring comes / I’ll be holy, / when summer comes, / I’ll be transparent.”

I think Gwen is an amazing essayist and a really strong poet, and I look forward to reading her work in the future, and recommend this book to anyone with any interest in contemporary poetry.
Profile Image for A.J. Dolman.
Author 8 books20 followers
May 25, 2018
Gwen Benaway carves her poems in Passage to reflect the waters of the Great Lakes, and a body and spirit in transition. These poems are prayerful and fluid, telling the story of loneliness and belonging.

Benaway brilliantly layers existential questions with answers, and at times more questions, drawn from the earth, the water and a soul yearning for respect, love and understanding. What you will come away with is a sense of the inherent need to connect, to be one's self, and to be at peace.

The journey Benaway describes in Passage's poems is often a painful one, but it takes her, and us, through enormous beauty as well, not only in the relationships (often with nature or with herself) or, even, in the sorrows, she describes, but in the language and cadence she enlists to carry us there. This is a phenomenal collection to which I will definitely return again. I look forward to reading more from this vibrant poet.
Profile Image for Anna.
Author 3 books45 followers
April 6, 2018
I love the separation of sections into the Great Lakes, associating a transition to physically becoming a woman with the power and flow of water; it's so subtly and artfully done that I didn't quite realize what was happening until the third or fourth section. Benaway pulls us through, interspersing moments of quiet and sometimes violent beauty of the outdoors, the north, the lakes, the wild with moments of beauty and violence and pain and joy of being a transgender Anishinaabe and Metis woman. Some real moments of powerful observation here, descriptions that take your breath away. (Also a few spelling errors [it's vs. its, hung vs. hanged, prostrate vs. prostate] that yanked me out in the middle of a poem, hence the four stars.)
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
1,577 reviews50 followers
March 5, 2019
With each section named after a different Great Lake, it was impossible for me not to relate (I grew up a bike ride away from Erie, and did family holiday stuff at the other lakes, I have always lived in SW Ontario where I am basically between the lakes).

Benaway is such a talented poet, and I love her work, and this collection is especially fabulous. Shaping each set of poems around different personal memories just worked so well.

I believe she has another some upcoming work, and I can't wait to read more from her. Definitely recommended.
10 reviews2 followers
March 13, 2018
I loved this so much! Benaway's poetry is gorgeous even when it is really painful. I connected so strongly with the background of the Great Lakes that runs through it. Each section has such a strong sense of place. There are a lot of difficult (though not graphic) things in here (physical and sexual abuse, transphobia, anti-Indigenous racism) but Benaway infuses the pain with a strong and inspiring will to survive.
Profile Image for Vee.
518 reviews23 followers
March 11, 2020
I am in complete awe of this collection of poetry. So many times my jaw dropped as I read brilliant piece after brilliant piece. I was constantly stuck between reading this all in one setting and needing time to let its words sink in properly. A true masterpiece. I am extremely grateful for these words and their painful truths and beauty. Easily my favourite book of poetry. Thank you Gwen for putting words to the page in a way that truly spoke to all the pieces of my being.
February 27, 2018
This book is raw and wounded in a way that rings with healing--both the difficulty and possibility of it. If you like poetry, you need to read this book. Preferably with a friend, definitely with a box of tissues. The water imagery was beautiful, and the descriptions of life in small towns and big cities were brutally real. Not an easy book, but totally worth the read.
Profile Image for Jasmine.
19 reviews5 followers
February 27, 2018
This is the collection for anyone who has ever lived through and been shaped by trauma. It's a tough read, but one that will leave you feeling more whole by the end of it. Reading this was a heart-wrenching, visceral experience. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat!
35 reviews
April 6, 2018
I would like to thank this author for sharing some of her life with me. Every human experience that I learn about expands my compassion.
Profile Image for Tanya Neumeyer.
114 reviews
October 17, 2019
Thank you Gwen for your work, your life, your passage through this time in your life with these words.
Profile Image for Ellen Chang-Richardson.
Author 3 books21 followers
December 2, 2019
A must-read. Simultaneously masculine and feminine in tone. Simultaneously soft and floating, then scraping and raw to the bone. To be read as an entire piece.
Profile Image for Laura.
3,110 reviews
April 12, 2020
I love the way her words flow, the feelings of fear, loss, desire, pain are so real and true as they flow over the page. I love the connection to land and place.
Displaying 1 - 27 of 27 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.