Today's book of poetry: Runaway Dreams. Richard Wagamese. Ronsdale Press. Vancouver, British Columbia. 2011.
Richard Wagamese's first book of poetry, Runaway Dreams, is beyond a revelation, it is simply great stuff from beginning to end.
Wagamese, an Ojibway, mines his life as an "Injun" in a world where that overused stereotype carries tremendous burden, weight. Luckily for the reader Wagamese blows all these stereotypes out of the water.
Wagamese is an accomplished story teller ( He is a published novelist and non-fiction writer. My wife K just read his book Indian Horse and said it was excellent - and she is a much better judge than I, I'll read it next) and there are several very good long poems in this collection including the rapturous The Canada Poem.
last stanza, The Canada Poem
there was no hope for me after that
the world had come up and flashed me
and shown me that there was more to it
than the brutal isolation of that house
and that magic existed in the open spaces
between buildings and people bent on
making something more out of something less
and all the runaway dreams -
they tried of course, to bend me to their rules
to discipline the Indian right out of me
and with every whack of the belt or band
the bruises they made sure were
hidden well beneath my clothing
they'd look me sternly in the eye and say
"you'll never run away again" and I
would almost laugh out loud because
I'd already left a thousand times
Richard Wagamese may have forgiven some of the injustices systemically forced on him and several generations of his family but he forgets nothing.
For the longest time I believed
that Dreamwoman would be the one
who cared that the starting infield
for the 1965 Boston Red Sox
was Thomas, Mantilla, Petrocellin and Malzone
or that Bob Mosley was
the bass player for Moby Grape
or that the banjo harkened back
to a gourd strung with strings
from Africa's Gambra River
or that the word carousel comes
from the French word carrousel
meaning a playful tournament of knights
or that the thirteen central poles
on a tipi each stand for a specific principle
to guide the lives of those who
I thought Dreamwoman
would care deeply
about all of that
and take it as important
but it turns out instead
that she simply cares
that I do
Theolonious Monk and others happily dance through this musical collection but never in ways you would expect. These poems are traditional and thoroughly modern, old stories you've always known and a new bold truth you didn't see coming.
Richard Wagamese has done the unexpected, a book of poetry spoken with an authentic and gentle voice that has all the weight and power of a sledge-hammer. This book was a discovery for me and every bit as exciting as the first time I read Kerouac, the first time I read Bukowski. If more books of poetry were like this one - poetry would actually be popular.