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Protest Poetry at the Whistler Writers Fest

Book review: Poets Rosanna Deerchild, Stephen Heighton, Miranda Pearson, and Gary Geddes.



Whistler hosts the 2016 Writers Festival from Oct. 13 to 16. Pique is running book reviews by attending authors to celebrate. For information and tickets: www.whistlerwritersfest.com.

Blackcomb Mountain was flaring blue this morning when I woke, an uncanny beauty that deepens my sense of reverence. But the living mountain is indifferent to me. Half an hour later, clouds obscured the massif in a fog that changed shape like a trick of light and perception.

The poet Robert Frost said this is where poetry begins — as a lump in the throat. We expect things to go a certain way — and then they don't.

Protest poetry may be loud or quiet, but it is the inner life of our rebel.

This year, the Whistler Writers Festival has invited four poets who are asking uncomfortable but courageous questions. I have been reading these poets all year, letting them teach me how our discomfort can make us whole.

Rosanna Deerchild's Calling Down the Sky is a fierce collection about witnessing stories of the deeply personal experiences of Canadian aboriginal residential schools. Here a child questions her mother:

when I ask/her to recall/that long untraveled road/to name those dark places/my question hurts/like a break/in her bone

The Last Sturgeon is the opening poem of Steven Heighton's collection, The Waking Comes Late.

So he always walked/a little above his life/not knowing it was/his life, while it waned/from waking-coma/to coma.

Heighton's poems are lucid and heart wrenching, with a musicality that put me in mind of a wandering troubadour. There are voices from the past, the Earth, beneath the surface of things and our power to believe despite our disappointments.

Let me bear you back/to haven — by river/the ocean/is never far.

Miranda Pearson's The Fire Extinguisher is a lyrical collection about every day that shows up and runs deep. Her poems observe and honour the challenges in this lifetime, with its unresolved consequences, and how we rise up to face our fragility.

But on the windowsill: two silver swans/their tarnished necks entwined.

Gary Geddes is one of the most influential poets in Canada today. The title poem in his book, The Resumption of Play, won the 2015 Malahat Review Long Poem Prize. Geddes has a body of work that is born of struggle — about the collapse of the Iron Workers Memorial Bridge, Japanese POWs, social injustice and fighting our own demons. And perhaps, too, a peace.

I balance my paddle across the cockpit for a moment/and drift till silence overcomes the petty/turbulence, letting the current do the work.

Mary MacDonald is a poet, writer, and member of the Whistler writing group, The Vicious Circle. She will be moderating and teaching at the Whistler Writers Festival's poetry events: Reading Event 8: Rising Up — The Poetry of Protest on Saturday, Oct. 15, at 11:30 a.m. and Workshop 9: Poetry 'The Courage to Rise Up' on Saturday, Oct. 15, at 2:30 p.m. at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

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