As Nieman Storyboard puts it, “sometimes poetry can be a more direct vehicle for narrative journalism.” Emotional and atmospheric nuance may not always make it into news reports. But by running primary source material through a poet’s filter, this mode of expression can offer a new perspective on stories that may not come alive on the page with a traditional news treatment. Docu-poetry shares some traits with literary journalism, the practice of writing non-fiction stories with some of the narrative strategies associated with fiction writing. Focusing on small slices of people’s stories through verse can reflect larger social issues — the themes made palatable through the creative expression of an individual’s or community’s story.
Hitchin’ to Edmonton. Cool August night.
She gets in. Black hair with blonde streaks.
Where are we by? she asks.
Nisku town lights flash
fast behind. The male driver says,
We’re just heading south of Beaumont, or north of Beaumont.
Making people laugh. That’s what she was known for.
5-foot 6, 20-years-old. Everyone hitched
back home in Fort Chip. Yo, where are we going? she asks.
Back roads, he says. Are you kidding me, she says,
where are these roads going to?
50th Street, he says. Absolutely.
She wasn’t the best singer, her mom said, but
she really loved to sing.
Her 14-month-old son, back at the Nisku Place Motel
with a friend, waiting. You better not be takin’ me anywhere
I don’t wanna go, she says. I want to go into the city. Okay?
We are, we’re going, he answers. Voice reassuring like he’s done this before.
Cell phone call, a false safety net she holds tight. Pretty tough that Mikisew Cree Nation woman. Dropping electronic breadcrumbs in the night.
I want to open a time portal.
Bend the speed of sound. Reach
in and pull her out. But I listen to her voice.
Where the fuck are these roads going to?
The road leads to dark pastures, woodland. Cool August night.
Wild violets, trembling aspen.
Serial killer’s dumping ground. Two years too late,
Alberta RCMP release a cell phone recording.
Have you heard the voice? Can’t call him a suspect, they say,
we’re calling him a person of interest.
Farmer’s field yields a crop of bones
in Leduc County. A Mikisew Cree Nation woman,
and four others within 8-kilometres,
alongside pastures and rocks and stones.
Amber, Corrie, Delores, Katie, Edna
Amber would be like, ‘Mom, one of these days
you aren’t going to be laughing. When I’m a big star,
I’ll be on those big boards and stuff.’
But not like this.
Two billboards, 141,653 YouTube views.
Have you heard the voice?
My baby sounded so scared, her mom said. There’s somebody
out there that recognizes the voice.
Has to be.
This poem is based on the story of Amber Tuccaro, an Indigenous woman who went missing in August 2010. The source material comes from CBC News, the Edmonton Sun, Windspeaker News, the National Post, and Metro News Edmonton, among others. The first part of the poem weaves in snippets of a call made on Amber’s cell phone, a little bit of Amber’s life, and her mother’s comments. The second compresses two years and deals with the aftermath of the car ride, including the unprecedented action taken by the RCMP of releasing part of the cell phone recording to the public. In the third section of the poem, the focus is on her mother’s anguish and her need to keep the story alive so that Amber is more than just a statistic.