Thursday, June 21, 2007

Green Grass, Running Water

The news from Turtle Island* can be pretty grim - even today, National Aboriginal Day, when the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs urges us to Share in the Celebration! Steps forward on issues like residential schools or land claims seem overwhelmed by daily problems like homelessness and violence right here in the Edmonton area. Even Aboriginal Day itself seems overshadowed by the looming National Day of Action coming up on June 29th.

Not to minimize the real issues but … there are some really excellent, really funny books available from native writers! Perhaps a positive way to “share in the celebration”?

Tomson Highway was my introduction to native humour, when I saw a hilarious production of his play The Rez Sisters. The companion play is Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing.

Thomas King is essential. His most recent fiction book is another of his “DreadfulWater” mystery novels written under the Hartley GoodWeather pseudonym: The Red Power Murders. Go back to Green Grass, Running Water, from 1993, for an all round good read – very funny but with a serious heart. It was a Canada Reads nominee in 2004, but lost in the early going.

Sherman Alexie is an American native writer, from just down the road in the Spokane area. Reservation Blues is a powerful and amusing novel about Thomas Builds-the-Fire, of the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene band, who forms an all-Indian Catholic rock band and embarks on a cross-country tour when long-dead Blues legend Robert Johnson comes to the reservation.

* Turtle Island is the English translation of the name given to North America, from the creation myth of the Algonkian and Iroquoian people.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


June 16th was Bloomsday. 103 years after the first Bloomsday, in the novel Ulysses, wherein Leopold Bloom takes several hundred pages to wander about Dublin on a single day. There was a time in my life when I would have lifted a pint of Guinness to the immortal memory of James Joyce and Leopold Bloom. Less connected to the ivory tower these days I see the big day slipped by unremarked in my household. It doesn't seem like long ago that I had invites to 24-hour Ulysses-reading parties. Yes, that's right, time for some T. S. Eliot:
I grow old ... I grow old ...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
The Onion should do one of those mock "what do you think" polls: "What are you doing to celebrate Bloomsday this year?" The CBC's Jian Ghomeshi had a great answer last year, as he was actually reading Ulysses as he filled in as Sounds Like Canada host on CBC Radio. Throughout the summer we had regular updates on Jian's progress, plus discussions with Joyceans like Michael Groden, a world-renowned Joyce scholar who is a professor at UWO (University of Western Ontario). Groden was the host of some of those Ulysses parties back in my UWO days I believe.
Reading Ulysses is an extremely quixotic task these days, an easy target for mockery, but Jian pulled it off quite well I thought. Almost makes me want to finally read the whole blasted thing. Almost.