Pathos and Presence
Reviewed by Michelle La Flamme
A photograph evoking the sombreness of the winter sunset seen through the broken glass of a windowpane is followed by a single black page with the title
a difficult beauty in bold black font on cream paper. The visual starkness of the cover and introductory pages of A Difficult Beauty prepares us for the cryptic poems that follow.
This collection of poetry is a passionate snapshot of poignant aspects of life on the rez depicted in simple scenes that are propelled forward with a sparse economy of language. It is little wonder that Groulx has won awards for his poetry and it has appeared globally in over one hundred periodicals. In addition to the stark realism of the poems, the crushing blows of poverty are evinced in poems such as
one set of tracks:
this is skid row / here everybody drags their body / from pawnshop to bar stool. The collection includes poems punctuated by ontological concerns, as in
i am still
These veins in my throat
My bones dripping
Into these rivers
I am being made into memory
The landscape, song, the natural world and the highway weave their way into the reader’s mind. The symbolism of the widening highway on the rez
[i]ts teeth clamped down / on the Indians, dogs and their houses is a frightening personification of impending encroachment. Some of the poems represent the anger of the impotence that is part of this existence as in
hate is long distance,
changing names where the uranium mine and the highway make adamant demands for social justice. Death themes, hard labour, survival, and asphalt are woven with memoirs on the effects of alcohol on self and family in
dancing with my father and
monsters. These poems that deal with harsh realities mingle with those such as
i am here and
sweat that offer solace and ceremony, told in storytelling fragments that aid in the healing from the violence of colonization.
The overarching poetic statement
I’ve done my time/America is understood through the body of poems that chillingly recount the impact of history and personal and cultural memory. The physical, mental, emotional, and physical effects of colonization on the soul are told here in a dense and personal poetic that is almost cinematic in its crispness as when the reservation is described simply as
the colony of broken fridges and worn down/houses in
returning to the rez.
These poems ultimately resist and describe the effects of colonization. The visual imagery and layers of symbolism in this frank book of poetry depict survival despite the chaos of an occupied postcolonial Canada for Aboriginal peoples.
- Mystic Musings by David Jarraway
Books reviewed: Erupting in Flowers: Poems by Michael Bullock and Nocturnes: Poems of Night by Michael Bullock
- Fellow Travellers by Dean J. Irvine
Books reviewed: Flying Blind by Gary Geddes and Leonel/Roque by Jim Smith
- Poésie québecoise et canadienne-anglaise by R. Mésavage
Books reviewed: Souffle d'eau by France Tremblay and Contre-taille: Poèmes choisis de vingt-cinq auteurs canadiens-anglais by Pierre Desruisseaux
- Women in Western Canada by Janice Fiamengo
Books reviewed: Telling Tales: Essays in Western Women's History by Catherine A. Cavanaugh and Randi R. Warne
- Frye Redux? by Graham Nicol Forst
Books reviewed: Northrop Frye and the Poetics of Process by Caterina Nella Cotrupi and Northrop Frye's Late Notebooks 1982-1990: Architecture of the Spiritual World by Robert D. Denham and Northrop Frye
MLA: La Flamme, Michelle. Pathos and Presence. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 13 June 2012. Web. 24 May 2013.
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.