2011 Review: Louis Riel: The Heretic Poems

 The Heretic Poems cover

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

by steamboat

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,

va chier!

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

A spark!

A flame!

A storm!

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.