Saturday, August 16, 2014

Chaos Inside Thunderstorms - Garry Gottfriedson (Ronsdale Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Chaos Inside Thunderstorms.  Garry Gottfriedson.  Ronsdale Press.  Vancouver, British Columbia.  2014.

"There is no hint  of apology or a waver of doubt in what he knows, and what he knows he makes available with a sense of responsibility. There is a deep sense of community within his poetry and it is this quality that transcends Garry and his writing beyond a limiting definition of male or poetry or Indigenous. His (literary) voice resonates like music. The ways of the old ones vibrate from within the writing without romantic nuance but with forthright presence. We are all fortunate to learn from Garry as a mature writer who has travelled an individual road measured with experience resulting in a high form of literary practice."
—Janet Rogers, Mohawk & Victoria's Poet Laureate

High Priests

from the hard corners in my head
I see the cardinals of sin
eating godliness on the red carpets
quilting the streets in the city of angels

I fled to Colorado one thing in mind
I wanted to crawl into your soul
cling to you reckless
but then I saw Ginsberg's eyes undressing me

dizzy in my own desperation
I knew Colorado was not for me
the eyes within the Rockies followed me west
and I crumpled the mirrors cupped in my fists

because the face that moved across the mirror was mine
seeking out assassins who medicate cowards
sleeping in LA's streets with beggars and prostitutes
there again, I saw your face in that crowd, your ghost

it began to bend my body into shadows
as I listened to skins bursting on the streets
razors scraped across my forehead
my head was full of the living marching to death camps

I scrawled their names across my back like swastikas
memory revived through my limbs
my vulture eyes scanned the skeletons and corpses
and scavenged stars in funeral procession tromping to LA's catacombs

and my mouth foamed
so that I became drunk on my own spit
while their words bearing split-tongue hisses
crawled into my ears, Michael Jackson's ears, Stephen Harper's ears

my face bloated
my jaw ached
my tongue bled poems
my logic crouched in black corners

I realized in the darkness of misunderstandings
they were born to drop to their knees
clawing and tugging at Christian Dior hems
sucking on cocks of dead men outstretched in morgues

there, the undertakers in white coats count the cash
even before the guts are dropped into stainless steel buckets
filling their mouths with sins, disinfecting bodies
embalming them with formaldehyde

they lie stiff on steel beds, faces softened to prettiness
anal cavities and vaginas stuffed with gauze
ready to hide from life as we know it
this is when they ride Harleys all the way to heaven

and at the gates, On the Road Kerouac, flashed across my mind
my tears pleaded with him to take Ginsberg home
to burn the red carpets in Hollywood
to awaken me as Howl once did

and when I forced myself to look away from the mirror
I cleared my head of regrets
forgave them, all of them
and now I sleep in peace

in peace


Choas Inside Thunderstorms is Garry Gottfriedson at full throttle, full steam, so like it or get the hell out of the way.  Gottfriedson is taking no prisoners, and why should he?

"My aunt Aimee George has a saying for our men: 'Warrior up.' Garry's words must have floated on the winds to her as he sat and composed this amazing set of poems. The poetry is about warrioring up. Out of the 'rotting silence' emerges a new history, poetic, powerful and poignant. Fearless in the making, Garry again emerges as one of the most beautiful voices in Indigenous country, pushing against the propaganda of the church, the state and its educators in lyric poems that inspire us to pick up our bundles and push back too."
     —Lee Maracle, author of Ravensong

I very much like that term 'Warrior up'.  And Chaos Inside Thunderstorms is all about that. Gottfriedson lives up to that challenge again and again with poems that challenge the status quo.  These poems work because Gottfriedson is always on the edge of rage but he is never ranting.

Idle No More

and what poetry
would Duncan Campbell Scott write
of Chief Theresa Spence?

his words are dead
and have died many lives
in the hearts of other Canadians

all of them meant to live
and destroy
the very essence of aboriginality

December 21, 2012, solstice, a holy day
the day Stephen Harper smudged
himself with rhetoric, laid it down on the dotted line

the day of oligarchic triumph
but for whom?
the colonial handover can never be

Idle No More is a time
to unknot all inhibitions
tangled in the hair of a silenced people

to kill Bill C-45 is not murder
it is what Goya did
when he painted revolutions

it is the will of a hero
a spirit who refuses
an abortion of trial rights

and so she suffers
her life
for the land, the people, all people

Chief Theresa Spence, let it be known —
D.C. Scott has no poetry to write of you
but I do


There is much righteous anger in Chaos Inside Thunderstorms.  That Gottfriedson illuminates that frustration into a poetry that both moves and challenges us is only a small part of what this book contains.

Although I agree with every single political thing Gottfriedson has to say in this collection it wouldn't really matter for the purposes of this blog unless I liked the poems.  How about INCENDIARY poetry. Smack you up the side of your head poetry.  Ya, that's in here.

But there are also moments of tender calm.

Falling Snow

the furnace shuttles along constantly
the snow falls in peaceful silence
the moon is south right now
here in the north daylight is rare these days

I think about friends as Christmas nears
Janet, Richard, Brian, even Chris
what are they doing at this moment?
the winter draws out thoughts on long days

early winter is an enchanted time
scents of summer pine seem long forgotten
as is the taste of saskatoons after a summer rain
moments in falling snow


Last year I had the pleasure of writing about an earlier title of Mr. Gottfriedson, Skin Like Mine.  Chaos Inside Thunderstorms eclipses my big expectations.  Can't wait to see what this man does next.

Mr. Gottfriedson has a huge fan here.

Garry Gottfriedson

Garry Gottfriedson, from the Secwepemc first nation (Shuswap), was born, raised and lives in Kamloops, BC. He is a self-employed rancher with a Masters degree in Education from Simon Fraser University. 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.

His published works include In Honor of Our Grandmothers: Imprints of Cultural Survival (Theytus Books, 1994), 100 Years of Contact(Secwepemc Cultural Education Society, 1990), Glass Tepee (Thistledown Press, 2002 — nominated for First People’s Publishing Award 2004), Painted Pony (Partners in Publishing, 2005), Whiskey Bullets (Ronsdale, 2006 — Anskohk Aboriginal Award Finalist), Skin Like Mine(Ronsdale, 2010 — Shortlisted for the CAA Award for Poetry), and Jimmy Tames Horses (Kegedonce Press, 2012).

Gottfriedson has read from his work across North America, Asia and Europe, and frequently gives creative writing workshops and lectures. His work has been internationally anthologized.

"If irony can be useful to 'rage,' then Garry Gottfriedson shows how in Chaos Inside Thunderstorms.
He uses the word 'thunderstorm' in a love poem, but passion is also part of his rage against the pains and injustices of colonization. These poems are shaped against the havoc of the conqueror's spoils and spoiling, the 'dogs' let loose in an anger that must resonate with us all. His words remind us that 'No More' is also a Growl!"
     —Fred Wah, Canada's Parliamentary Poet Laureate

"Chaos Inside Thunderstorms is a dream of prayers laced with light and hope. I loved it. All of it. This is Garry Gottfriedson at his finest."
     —Richard Van Camp, author of The Lesser Blessed

Secwepemc poet, writer, story teller
Garry Gottfriedson
Lectures - Advice for aspiring writers


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