Dreams and Inspirations

Reviewed by Renate Eigenbrod

The Next Sure Thing by Anishinaabe author Richard Wagamese is a story about a twenty-three-year-old Native man, Cree Thunderboy, who has two dreams: becoming a famous bluesman on his guitar and picking out “a sure thing” at the racetrack. When he meets a man who promises to pay for a recording studio, his first CD, and a promotional tour on the condition that he will find him a winning horse on the racetrack every so often, it seems that he has made his luck. However, as it turns out, the man is not as nice as he appears and soon becomes dangerous—not only for Cree, but also for his friend and his family. In the end, Cree successfully frees himself from this bondage. As the Native identity of the main character is not emphasized, the story is an uplifting read for anyone who refuses to become a victim. The fast-paced plot and engaging conversational style is well suited for a novel that is published as a “Rapid Reads” book, i.e., a book for reluctant readers. However, although it is a fast and easy read, it is for me still a Wagamese story, as it touches on themes in his other works—for example, the importance of the blues, a cross-cultural theme in Keeper’n Me, or the role of fate so important in Dream Wheels. Also, the friendship between Cree Thunderboy and Ashton Crooker, who grew up “poor in a trailer park at the outskirts of Montreal,” is reminiscent of the cross-cultural friendship theme in A Quality of Light and the many encounters Wagamese had on his travels, as told in For Joshua and in Runaway Dreams.

The “Rapid Reads” genre is a first for Wagamese, and Runaway Dreams is his first collection of poetry. His email signature citation of “changing the world one story at a time” expresses his belief in the importance of stories; experimenting with different genres may be his way of diversifying his audiences. His poems tell stories lyrically, the pauses of the line breaks making room for a reader’s reflection, with images enhancing the impact—“my skin is broken territory / and my heart went along for the ride.” If there is one theme that runs through this collection, it is movement: as physical and spiritual travelling, as journeys toward the Old Ones, as displacement and as reconnection, as search for home and identity—“so that planting flowers becomes an Injun thing”— set against the theme of simply being, on the land and embraced by love.

Long before Wagamese, Métis leader Louis Riel prophesied the importance of Aboriginal artists. Riel’s own poetry is not well-known but became a source of inspiration for contemporary Métis poet Gregory Scofield after he found a copy of the first edition of Riel’s Poésies religieuses et politiques in McLeod’s Books, a second-hand bookstore in Vancouver. Using Riel’s poetry and diaries as well as other documents of the time, he created the poetic biography Louis: The Heretic Poems—his choice of genre reminiscent of Armand Ruffo’s Grey Owl. In each case, the use of poetry instead of a more straightforward narrative allows for the expression of ambiguities and complexities in a person’s life. In Ruffo’s case, Grey Owl became more than simply a “wannabe,” and for Scofield, it was important to portray Riel as “a man” ending his own heretic writing about Riel’s heresy against church and government by giving voice to Riel’s fear of being “put in a box”:

I wish only to stretch out
as a man who is lying with his head
above ground.

This review “Dreams and Inspirations” originally appeared in Indigenous Focus. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 215 (Winter 2012): 194-95.

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