Deaf Heaven. Garry Gottfriedson. Ronsdale Press. Vancouver, British Columbia. 2016.
Today's book of poetry has previously looked at two other titles by Garry Gottfriedson. Skin Like Mine (Ronsdale Press, 2010) and Choas Inside Thunderstorms (Ronsdale Press, 2014). You can look at both of those here:
Deaf Heaven is more of the same and it starts as it means to go on. These poems are a screaming indictment that rips any comfortable delusions away just like a whip tears skin. All that is left are the twitching nerve-endings and the accusatory salt to be rubbed in the wounds. Hard.
Deaf Heaven is a complicated riffing scream/plea, is there a god, any god, listening?
Today's book of poetry knows nothing of Garry Gottfriedson's personal history except what has been written in these poems, his earlier books, but these poems certainly make an impression, you certainly feel like you're learning something.
draw in the chorus of howls
long fought for release
hiding beneath black robes
and in solemn sermons
in god's confession boxes
when the consecrated men were exposed
moral bankruptcy was no longer
in question -- delusional
claims of justification
and faith tucked in the dark wedges
between sweaty legs
imagining the neat corners of beds
in school dreams
making the sign of the cross
completing the trip to dorms
because god equipped them
with superior moral standards
that allowed them
to be free of sin
and those who cruise
skid row in Mercedes
don't know why
the destitute child seeks
salvation in the piss-riven streets
a needle dangling from their palm
a fist coiled in sloppy war
crossed-over feet spiked
down with decades of holy sins
while the selection of popes
follows Darwin's theory of evolution
nor do the salvation seekers
know those queens and survivors
carry the weight of the Vatican
in their wombs and rectums
rape was legitimized by god
it is hard to imagine, even accept
that the purple cocks of priests
were the toys they played with
their Jesus-like entrapment
nailed to their skins
and they smell, not of droplets of blood
dripping from the heart
but the stink of their predator's sperm
crusted in private places
Indian country is full of witnesses
while the city folk spout racist rhetoric
smothering the healing songs
and losing the hope
they can't even imagine
Poetry doesn't have to be political although Today's book of poetry would suggest it is political by nature. Deaf Heaven is overt, in your face, hopeful against hopeless years of indifference and worse. This shout is clear and loud enough to rise above the normal din, it is a call for respect.
Gottfriedson repeatedly calls out the status quo with his bold and assertive poems. The thing to remember for a poetry blog is that Deaf Heaven would be simply all justifiable rage/rant if it weren't for the poems working as poems. Gottfriedson is in firm control of this freight train, he's driving these poems at breakneck speed, making the rails scream red as he runs it right up against the fence, He wants us to see everything.
when the weak light of morning appears
the stars are not what they were
they are memory a million years old
woven into Star Quilts
each thread is a declaration
our stories and lives are stitches of celebration
interlaced in a span of lifetimes
they are the colour of love and war
and the natural hue of our skin
the smell of grandmothers and grandfathers
breathing those stories into our blood
the taste of our mothers' milk
the callused hands of our fathers silken on our cheeks
it is our purpose for being parents
for the living warmth of our children just born
and so when daylight is finally here
we wrap our newborn in freshly made Star Quilts
And then there is hope, that most beautiful of human attribute, and love poems. Deaf Heaven is not without hope, it is not all grief. Sometimes the best poetry turns out to be full of wondrous contradictions. We live with such certainty that when we find it to be unfounded it shifts our center of gravity. Many of these poems dial right in to that trick. Gottfriedson wrestles with some dilemmas, kicks the crap out of others.
These poems roll on making heroic and true claims, Gottfriedson loves nature and his family and Leonard Cohen, Secwepmc culture and history and love poems and so on. It's in every poem.
the heart of Koko Taylor
rumbles in my ears
forged in my veins
iron softened to strong affection
notes burst from the deep
rasps of desolate words
I'd rather go blind
than to see you
walk away from me
and you over there, my voice tugs at you
rasping blues songs
weepy notes escaping disbelief
lingering in your fresh scent
still on my skin
I want so badly to let you go
to scrub my body with wild rose
to cleanse myself until it is over
to offer myself humbly to the world
I want so badly...
And if all this weren't enough. A dip of the hat to Koko Taylor and her Wang Dang Doodle heart. Gottfriedson knows exactly how to go for Today's book of poetry's jugular. Today's book of poetry could listen to him explore, pontificate, party weep or pray. This sort of intelligent energy makes for exciting poetry every time.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Garry Gottfriedson, from the Secwepemc nation (Shuswap), was born, raised and lives in Kamloops, B.C. Growing up on a ranch in a ranching and rodeo family, he has been fully immersed in his people’s traditions and spirituality. He comes from four generations of horse people. His passion for horses, raising and training them, still continues to this day. He holds a Master of Education from Simon Fraser University and has studied Creative Writing at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. His published works include 100 Years of Contact (SCES, 1990); In Honour of Our Grandmothers (Theytus, 1994); Glass Tepee (Thistledown, 2002, and nominated for First People’s Publishing Award 2004);Painted Pony (Partners in Publishing, 2005); Whiskey Bullets (Ronsdale, 2006, and Anskohk Aboriginal Award finalist); Skin Like Mine (Ronsdale, 2010, and shortlisted for Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry); Jimmy Tames Horses (Kegedonce, 2012); Chaos Inside Thunderstorms (Ronsdale, 2014). His works have been anthologized both nationally and internationally. He has read from his work across Canada and in the USA, Europe and Asia.
“Gottfriedson’s poetry is built to endure and it will remain with you long after this book is closed.”
– Alexander MacLeod, author of Light Lifting, finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize
“Garry Gottfriedson rides double, calling out the violence and corruption he’s seen, while reminding us that grounded strength comes from staying connected to grandmothers, grandfathers, horses, and the land.”
– Rita Wong, author of Forage, winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize
“Gottfriedson writes us the sound of his blood, the splatter of ink on wood, and the dripping sweat and tears of prayer — all of it telling us who we are and chanting, as if in chorus, ‘survival is brilliant.’ Will we be wise or strong enough to listen?”
– Shane Rhodes, author of X: Poems & Anti-Poems
Cascadia Poetry Festival
video: MS Poetry Docs
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