Deaf Heaven (Ronsdale Press) is our third feature in our National Poetry Month series, Poets Resist. Published last year, his poetry collection explores postcolonial issues while also paying attention to First Nations internal problems with a fresh, provocative perspective.
This year we feel everyone could see a little more solidarity and community, so we're getting poetically political with Poets Resist, a series dedicated to poetry as a form of resistance. Every day on the blog we will feature a poet whose work explores one of these topics: colonialism and violence, homophobia and transphobia, environmental destruction, and/or the !@#$% patriarchy.
Garry Gottfriedson's Deaf Heaven(Ronsdale Press) is our third feature in our National Poetry Month series, Poets Resist. Published in 2016, his poetry collection explores postcolonial issues while also paying attention to First Nations internal problems with a fresh, provocative perspective.
ALU: What are some books that inspired or informed Deaf Heaven?
GG: Mostly Deaf Heaven is a personal account of my life. But books like Unsettling Canada by Arthur Manuel, The Fourth World by his father George Manuel, They Called Me Number One and Price Paid by Bev Sellars have inspired me to write poetically about the content in Deaf Heaven. However, my inspiration also comes from the writings of Leonard Cohen, Allen Ginsberg, and Jim Morrison. Jimmy Baca is one of my favourite poets, and his work consistently inspires me. There are numerous poets out there who also inspire me, such as the Métis poet Gregory Scofield.
ALU: If you were protesting colonialism, what would your protest sign read?
GG: My protest sign would read: “Canada, judge me when you are perfectly clean of colonialism.”
ALU: Why did you write this collection?
GG: Deaf Heaven comes from personal experience. Born as First Nations people in Canada, we are, by default, thrown into a political situation from birth. My whole life has been driven by the policies and politics of Canada as a result of the Indian Act—a federal statute that dictates every aspect of First Nations lives here in Canada. It is, one should add, the only one of its kind in the world. Therefore, to survive as a First Nations person in Canada, one must be keenly aware of the history, laws and issues that oppress our lives on a day-to-day basis. The very act of writing is education in some capacity, so I wrote this collection to educate not only the First Nations community about the factors that engulf our lives, but also the Canadian public as well. Truthfully, writing is also an artistic act for me. Since I have this creative voice in me, and I am not a visual artist, writing is a release for me; otherwise, I might be a mad man.
ALU: What does poetry as resistance mean to you?
GG: Poetry as resistance to me means that there are vital issues still unresolved, and that must be addressed in order for all to live in a harmonious way. Canadians have inherited a dirty part of history that they are naive about. Nevertheless, the historical wrongs and injustices still must be dealt with in order for Canada and First Nations to move forward in a respectful relationship. I think that resistance measures challenge the politics and attitudes of the day. Poets have done this for centuries. To resist poetically is nothing new: poets from Dante to Ginsberg to Cohen have done this. What is different now is that the First Nations in Canada (and in the USA) have captured the artistic language that awakens people to the issues. The rise of the Indigenous voice has gained a strong presence over the past few decades. Publishers have seen merit in the voice of Indigenous writers and have taken a chance on us. Many of us began to write about the issues, history, and context in which we live here in Canada. Much of our work is about resistance. To resist anything is an indicator that something is not right. To resist poetically awakens souls to question and examine what is not right in society. Poetry, like song, is a powerful means of resistance. It can move people to think, to educate, to engage and to finally take action. When all of these are combined, there is tremendous power in words. I resist because I am human. I resist because there is a need for an awakening.
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Photo credit: Kent Wong
Garry Gottfriedson, from the Secwepemc first nation (Shuswap), was born, raised and lives in Kamloops, BC. He was awarded the Gerald Red Elk Creative Writing Scholarship by the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, where he studied under Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Marianne Faithful, and others. Some of his published works include Whiskey Bullets, Skin Like Mine,
Jimmy Tames Horses, In Honor of Our Grandmothers: Imprints of Cultural Survival, and Glass Tepee.
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