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Riel, the icon, humanized through poetry
Louis Riel: The Heretic Poems
By Gregory Scofield
Published by Nightwood Editions
Review by Christine McFarlane
Louis Riel is a pivotal figure in Canadian history, and those who have never really understood him are taken on a journey by writer Gregory Scofield.
“Louis Riel: The Heretic Poems” is Scofield’s new four-part book.
Metis poet Scofield draws attention to Riel by juxtaposing historical events and quotes with poetic narrative and this allows his readers a glimpse into each part of Riel’s life, beginning with “Le Garcon (The Boy).
This section shows us Riel as a boy sitting on a train in the poem “Trip To Civilization, 1858” with Scofield recounting Riel’s journey to St. Paul, and relaying the thoughts of Louis Riel from his journal notes.
“Twenty eight days we watch the trees grow sparse, and the oxen sway as if their legs are all tendon and marrow.
Finally we reach St. Paul, thank God
And what an exalted sight; to be a pane of glass
In one of the churches, a step at city hall.”
Scofield gives his readers further insight into Riel’s journey by showing us a glimpse of Riel’s thoughts as travels sails by steamboat.
me, Louis Schimdt and Daniel McDougall
we are three crates of prairie dust
sailing down the Mississippi to Wisconsin
Then by train we go to Chicago.
Me, in a velvet seat. Louis Schmidt at the window.
Daniel McDougall asleep, Sister Valade
Plucking the hairs on her chin
Oh my! Oh my!”
Within the section titled Le President, we witness a reactive Riel in the poem “The Revolutionary.” A note from Sir John A. Macdonald states “the impulsive half-breeds have got spoilt by this emeute (rioting) and must be kept down by a strong hand until they are swamped by the influx of the settlers” and Riel responds.
va chier! I say to him, pointing to all
the puppets of Parliament,
I devote myself not to a masterpiece
Of rhetoric, a sermon of permission
Nor flowered admonition
What I declare here, to you
Is a sermon of salvation, a coaxing fire
We must set ablaze
Within the section titled “The Spokesman” Riel is revered, and we are witness to another large figure in Metis history, Gabriel Dumont.
Finally in L’Homme D’Etat (The Statesman), the reader becomes a witness to Riel’s prayer before being hanged.
In the poem“The Request” Riel laments:
“This is my fear.
To be put in a box. A poorly chosen box.
One that is constant quarrel over size and shape.
This is my greatest fear”
Scofield’s ability to make his readers become a part of Louis Riel’s life and journey is amazing. His voice is ideally paired with both the subject matter and Riel’s own poetry and as you read each selection of poetry, the life of Louis Riel’s is humanized.
Readers will see Louis Riel outside of being a folk hero and martyr. They see him within various roles, as a young boy, a friend, a husband, a father, lover, a poet and a visionary.
Louis: The Heretic Poems is 96 pages and published by Nightwood Editions, which is an independent publisher distributed and marketed by Harbour Publishing.
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