Duncan Mercredi’s ‘weird way of looking at life and land’ collected in retrospective

Only collection from Winnipeg’s Poet Laureate currently in print draws from past alongside newer work

Duncan Mercredi’s biography is straightforward. He’s a Cree/Métis writer and storyteller originally from Misipawistik (Grand Rapids), Manitoba, and the current Poet Laureate of Winnipeg.

But these lines, taken from the poetic afterword to Mercredi’s upcoming new and selected, mahikan ka onot: The Poetry of Duncan Mercredi, are a much better introduction:

“A blue collar guy in a white collar world living in a tie-dyed neighborhood writing in broken english dreaming in cree in a concrete forest my skin a chameleon of colors from a whiter shade of red in spring to the dark brown of summer to the earth tones of fall and then the darker shade of white in winter and you ask me why are you confused.”

As with the poet laureate gig, Mercredi had to be convinced to take on this career retrospective.

“To tell you the truth,” he says, “I didn’t think anyone would be interested in my weird way of looking at life and land, and my stubborn stand on having someone edit what I’ve written: ‘my words, my mind, my heart, if you want changes, speak to the old ones, they gave them to me.’ Warren understood that, and I’m really thankful for it. I’m sure he shook his head a few times.”

He’s referring to Métis scholar Warren Cariou, who selected the poems and wrote an introduction. Cariou believes that Mercredi has had a huge influence on contemporary Indigenous poetry, both as a mentor and as a poet.

“Even though his first four books went out of print a few years ago, he has remained a legendary presence in Winnipeg’s poetry scene because of his performances of new and old work,” says Cariou. “I jumped at this chance to help bring these rich and uncannily honest poems back into print, along with some of Duncan’s amazing newer work.”

Duncan Mercredi
Duncan Mercredi

mahikan ka onot includes poetry from Mercredi’s poetry quartet, Spirit of the Wolf: Raise Your Voice (1991), Dreams of the Wolf in the City (1992), Wolf and Shadows (1995), and Duke of Windsor: Wolf Sings the Blues (1997).

Though he is looking forward to seeing this book in print – and hopes that people will latch onto the newer work – Mercredi is not sorry that the plans to launch it have been postponed or shifted online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Thank the great mystery for the pandemic – it’s kept me from having to appear in places I am uncomfortable going to including book launches and touring,” Mercredi says.

Most recently, Mercredi embarked on a special coronavirus poetry project, which he posted to Facebook, and intends to publish as a chapbook, as well as a longer manuscript of poems that form a biography of sorts.

“So far, most of the pieces centre around Misipawistik ‘before hydro.’ I might have to rethink my idea of including pieces that take place after hydro, the Cranberry Portage years, the blue collar years, and my Winnipeg experiences,” says Mercredi.

“It could end up being 300 pages of poetry and little stories of ‘how the hell did I live this long?’”