After a reading in Toronto, an older Palestinian man approached poet David Groulx with appreciation for lines from the poem “Widening the Highway on the Rez”: “now this land becomes our Palestine / broken off from torso and limb / this long execution.”
In the preface to his latest collection, Groulx explains how the brief interaction made the connection between their perspectives on colonialism real, far beyond the analogy. The result of that connection, From Turtle Island to Gaza, demonstrates the power of sharing experiences.
“Sharing stories of colonization is power, there is no doubt for me,” says Groulx. “One of the things that colonization does, among others, is that it isolates. This is one of the reasons reserves were created, why Israel has built walls around Gaza: it makes one feel powerless.
“And when there is someone else across the world that can understand you and acknowledge your experience, that is power. If we can share our pain, we can also share our healing and learn to be human through each other, because colonization has tried to dehumanize us.”
In this collection, Groulx’s poetry reads like a correspondence with Palestinian poets – Mourid Barghouti, Mahmoud Darwish, and Ibrahim Tuqan, among others – who are named in the preface “so they may be heard too.”
“I read a lot of poetry from the Third World, because I identify with it much more than say, Western, or White literature,” says Groulx. “And when I see what is happening in Palestine, I recognize it, because it happened here on Turtle Island. Borders become blank and distance becomes naught.”
Another collection from Groulx that embodies the power of sharing stories, Imagine Mercy, is being published in Cree as mâmitonêhta kisêwâtisiwin, translated by experienced teacher and storyteller Randy Morin. Morin appreciates the way Groulx writes from a place of authenticity and personal understanding.
“I really enjoyed reading his stuff because it all resonates with me and my own experiences as a Cree man living in Saskatchewan and Canada today,” Morin says. “He was able to talk about many topics that many do not want to talk about, such as how White people think, and how they think about Indigenous Peoples.”
In Imagine Mercy / mâmitonêhta kisêwâtisiwin, Groulx resists the misconceptions mainstream society has of Indigenous Peoples, declaring, “I ain’t got time to write pastoral poems,” in the poem “He’s Native, He Writes Protest Poems.”
Instead, the speaker lists important issues, like high rates of suicide, diabetes, and incarceration; stolen sisters and dead brothers; apprehension of children by children’s aid services; and lack of access to basic living standards – ending with the question, “What do you write about, White boy?”
Yet, despite the tone of resistance, Groulx asserts, “I have an aversion to the term ‘protest poetry,’ a category created to project control. So when the word is used, it implies anger and at the bottom of anger is fear, and I am not afraid.”
Considering that this is the third time Morin has translated Groulx’s work into Cree, it’s surprising that the two have never spoken to one another. Having had other works translated into French and Ojibwe with little to no input, Groulx imagines that most translators wouldn’t want the author intruding on the process.
“So I leave it alone and be glad that I could contribute a little bit to the preservation and continuation of a couple of Indigenous languages,” Groulx says. “By the way, thank you, Randy.”