Poetry in Motion: Garry Gottfriedson compels us to listen in Deaf Heaven

February 22, 2016

Garry Gottfriedson returns with his fourth collection with Ronsdale Press, Deaf Heaven, continuing where he left off with a fresh suite of power-packed poetry. Drawing from his own experiences in the Secwepemc (Shuswap) First Nation in the interior of British Columbia, Gottfriedson compels us to listen to the challenges facing Aboriginal communities today—problems, writes Gottfriedson, that have fallen on deaf ears for far too long.

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Garry Gottfriedson returns with his fourth collection with Ronsdale Press,  Deaf Heaven, continuing where he left off with a fresh suite of power-packed poetry. Drawing from his own experiences in the Secwepemc (Shuswap) First Nation in the interior of British Columbia, Gottfriedson compels us to listen to the challenges facing Aboriginal communities today—problems, writes Gottfriedson, that have fallen on deaf ears for far too long.

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A number of these problems occupy regular airtime on the nightly news, such as the pursuit of truth and reconciliation for past atrocities, the ongoing search for missing Aboriginal girls and women, and calls for inquiries into the hundreds murdered. Other problems are more deeply rooted within the bands, casting a light on the corruption and violence that Gottfriedson has witnessed.

In discussing both internal and external challenges, Deaf Heaven explores a broad terrain, taking us from the darkened corners of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side to inside the chief’s office on band election day, visiting political back rooms and derelict rooming houses along the way. This poetic tour often leads to places which are not comfortable for the reader, and for this Gottfriedson makes no apology.

But despite this bleak perspective, Gottfriedson also expresses hope that the wounds of history may one day be healed. Much of this optimism reflects his connection to the land, his passion for horses, and his coming from four generations of ranchers. Poet Rita Wong, author of the award-winning Forage, observes this, noting Gottfriedson reminds us that “grounded strength comes from staying connected to grandmothers, grandfathers, horses, and the land.”

We find Gottfriedson straddling this line of frustration and hope in the title poem of Deaf Heaven:

silver words fill
the ears of downcast angels
roaming a deaf heaven 

so soft is the prayer
like a winter snow
silent and powerful 

on earth, heartaches are meant
to die screaming
the sounds meant to reach angels

be that as it may,
deep within the soul
hope flickers 

(“Deaf Heaven” in Deaf Heaven, Ronsdale Press, 2016)

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Garry Gottfriedson’s three previous collections with Ronsdale Press—Whiskey Bullets, Skin Like Mine, and Chaos Inside Thunderstorms—reveal a similar view of the contemporary First Nations reality. Having established himself as an ambassador of First Nations writing and as an important figure in the Canadian poetry scene, Gottfriedson is much in demand to read at events in Canada and abroad. 

Here, from Skin Like Mine, is a reading of the poem “Deafness”:

 

And here is an extended video with Garry reading a number of his poems at the Cascadia Poetry Festival in Nanaimo, B.C., last spring (reading starts at 3:15):

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Gottfriedson author photo B&W

Garry Gottfriedson, from the Secwepemc First Nation, was born, raised, and lives in Kamloops, B.C. His novels and collections of poetry have been nominated for and awarded a number of prizes, including the People’s First Publishing Award, Anskohk Aboriginal Award, and the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry.

 

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All Lit Up would like to thank Meagan Dyer from Ronsdale Press for sharing Deaf Heaven with us!


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