Every morning for more than a week, I had breakfast with Anishinaabe-Métis poet, David Groulx; with cups of cinnamon tea and fruitbread, I read his poems to begin my days.
I read his Under God’s Pale Bones in 2012, after having seen him read at an International Festival of Authors event at Harbourfront.
He references this event in the preface to his most recent collection, From Turtle Island to Gaza (2019), where he describes a brief exchange he had with a Palestinian man outside afterwards, which underscored his belief that “colonialism is a shared experience”.
This is a recurring theme in his work, perhaps evident most fervently in the first half of 2015’s Wabigoon River: precise and sharp verses about how “we are the aftermath of an apocalypse”.
Wabigoon River is a slim volume – just 58 printed pages – and the second half is a weighty deliberation, part philosophy and part revolution, soaked in devastation. There are biblical and literary allusions, historical references from sites of mercury-poisoned lands (in the country currently called Canada) to Gaza to Khmer Rouge.
These Threads Become a Thinner Light was also published in 2015. It’s a palm-sized book and that contributes to the sense that it is an even more personal collection. There are albatrosses and paydays, backseats and sepulchers. But there are also needles and nurses, inheritances and hotels, and prison walls and wardens.
Neil Stonechild’s death is referenced in this collection and Helen Betty Osborne’s is referenced in Imagine Mercy (2013). (If you are looking to add further to your reading list, consider Susanne Reber and Robert Renaud’s Starlight Tour: The Last, Lonely Night of Neil Stonechild and David Alexander’s The Helen Betty Osborne Story, recently republished as Betty.)
In one poem, Groulx writes: “When the Whites found gold / in Tsilhqot’in territory / they built roads on the graves”. There’s also a 10-speed bike and a copy of the Sears Christmas Wish Book. And “night gnaws the light away”.
There’s a lot of everyday detail in In the Silhouette of Your Silences (2014) also: “The Littlest Hobo” and the King George Hotel, planets and prayers, poppies and sunflowers, and an unbuttoned blouse and empty kisses.
There is a sensual side to some of these verses, a consideration of “what bodies know”, of the “bodyscape”. There are lyrical lines like: “Empty/ the sunset / from your throat”. There is also a pair of granny panties.
The gravity and grace of this collection is present, too, in A Difficult Beauty (2011). The production value might not be as fancy as some of his more recent volumes, but I think this might be my favourite of the bunch. Oka, Star Trek, Jesus, Custer, Ipperwash: there’s a bit of everything here.
In one instance, we’re “drunk of the stars”; in another instance, we’re drunk on “some industrial laquer”. On one page, we’re working in the mines (Groulx grew up in the northern community of Elliott Lake); on another page, we’re watching figure skating.
There’s talk of healing and hangovers, “broken fridges and worn-down houses”, and “blood memory”. And a “glass tea kettle / some stones / and a warm wood stove in the kitchen”.