Meticulously crafted, intense, and haunting… A marvelous collection.
Gutteridge focuses his poetic skills on famous explorers, political leaders, visionaries, saints, and rebels in this collection for budding historians and poetry lovers alike. In “Hudson,” the early 17th century English sea explorer and navigator Henry Hudson’s brush with death is made a bourgeois theme: “There is no death/ like this one:/ my blood souring/ and the sea around me,/ my mind burning/ with a wind’s flame,/ my flesh rotting/ in an elemental grave.” In “Brebeuf on the Cross,” Gutteridge experiments with form, supplying deeply touching, elegant lines about the French Jesuit missionary Brebeuf’s last moments: “This pain/ scrapes me/ clean/ (bone-knife skimming/ pulpy flesh/ from the hide:/ oiled gleam is/ holy in the sun)/ makes life single/ and singular:/ blood guts bone/ fuse on its point/ merge with its/ purpose the/ purple altars are/ running with pus the/ steeples burn/ thru bloody cloud.” Louis Riel, the compelling leader of the Metis, hanged by Sir John A. MacDonald’s government in 1885, sits at the core of “Riel,” a poignant poem written in the first-person narrative voice of Riel, bringing the man alive, a man who is full of rancor and tenderness, melancholy and dignity, courage and strength: “When my body/ swings like a/ dead tongue/ from the white-man’s/ scaffolding,/ will there be/ an eloquence/ to tell…/ or will this/ prairie be/ a coffin/ for my voice/ a dwelling place/ for/ two/ white/ stones?”. Alternating in style from short, hard-hitting verses (“Champlain”) to longer pieces that read like confessional vignettes (“Death at Quebec”), the poems do not follow a strict narrative pattern as they explore pain, death, human spirit of adventure and exploration, freedom, oppression, martyrdom, courage, transformation, and resilience of humanity in the face of utmost difficulties. At times, the enticing verses beg for more historical context to add further perspective; readers will benefit from reading about all the historical figures mentioned to gain a better perspective about their lives (with the exception of the last poem, “La Salle: Fragments from Journal,” a long documentary poem in two parts that covers the 17th-century French explorer and fur trader in North America, La Salle’s expeditions). This haunting collection will stay at readers’ minds long after they finish the book.
Death at Quebec, and Other Poems
Fiddlehead Poetry Books; 1st Edition
Pub date January 1, 1971
Price $94.69 Paperback