Split Tooth, Tanya Tagaq & Domaine Ansen Lerchensand
Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq with Domaine Ansen Lerchensand Sylvaner
by Kim Kent
A year ago
Above a low shelf in my apartment is a wrinkled post-it note that reads: This is life. Eat it now. Two sentences that have sat suspended like a cosmic message, digested and half-peeling from my wall, for over a year. I’m normally quite meticulous with my sticky note attribution, and yet I had forgotten where these sentences came from, until I remembered, suddenly, like an electric current that announced itself early one sleepless morning. “This is life. Eat it now,” says the protagonist of Tanya Tagaq’s debut genre-bending novel Split Tooth. She does not mean: Carpe Diem, seize the day, or anything approximating a tee-shirt aphorism, but rather something like life is long, forceful, and we are hungry creatures sucking liquid from the earth like a cyclone feeding on the warmer air—eat all of it, but be prepared to be eaten too.
“How presumptuous to assume that an experience is limited to your own two eyes,” is not something I’ve written out and stuck to a wall or mirror, but probably should. I think we all should. In Split Tooth the act of myth building has a loosening effect on me: my assumptions, senses, and even my bones—inching me toward a place where “you do not travel through time; time travels through you, drives you.” It’s an origin story that moves with the lucidity of a dream and the clarity of having moved through “a wet, seething mountain.” There is much that happens in this novel that is difficult and potentially triggering. It’s an uncomfortable space, but one that seeks to heal itself. I grow a bit queasy at the word ‘healing,’ perhaps because it’s such a nebulous, unphysical word, but Tagaq’s novel is firmly rooted in the earth. In the creatures that feed from it, and the cycles we can and cannot escape because “we have always been here.”
Have you ever had someone pour wine down your open throat? I have not, and, while I’m pretty sure I’d hate it, this month’s wine almost makes me want to give it a whirl. The Domaine Ansen Lerchensand is a skin-contact sylvaner grown on single south-facing hill (Lerchensand) in Alsace and tastes like a spell “unleashed from the spring thaw [to] lift us into a frenzied desperation for movement.” It’s both immediate and commanding, like this novel, and leaves me feeling completely quenched. A wine that “shines out of my throat like the sun,” radiating with overripe stone fruits, pie baked with slightly mealy, though not unpleasant, apples, and orange rinds. In the bottle it looks golden, almost syrupy, but in the glass its sediment flecks glitter with life. Drinking, like living, is a hungry business.
Tanya Tagaq is an acclaimed Inuit throat singer, often referred to as a ‘punk Inuit singer,’ whose videos on Youtube are something you must watch. Right now. Split Tooth is her first book, which she refers to as a “mythobiography.” She was born in 1975 and grew up in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut on the south coast of Victoria Island.
Domaine Ansen is a winery in Westhoffen, Alsace, a region in north-eastern France that borders Switzerland and Germany. Though the winery was established in 2010, the Ansen family comes from a long line of winemakers, orchard growers, and farmers. They currently farm 8.5 hectares, in 40 plots (some are as small as two rows of vines). It’s a small winery making some very place specific wines.