The Anishinaabe and French-Canadian poet David Groulx is about to release his latest collection of poetry called From Turtle Island to Gaza. In it the Vanier-based poet connects Palestinian and Indigenous experiences. Before he launches the collection Groulx answered some questions from ARTSFILE.
Q. Please tell me a bit about who you are and where you are from?
A. I grew up in a small mining town in Northern Ontario called Elliot Lake. I lived there with my mom, dad, two sisters and two brothers. When I was 18, I left and never looked back.
Q. When did you start putting pen to paper?
A. I suppose I started writing as soon as I learned to read. I wanted to make my own stories, changing the words to popular songs or making up my own, changing the dialogue on movies or TV shows I watched.
Q. Why poetry. What sparked it?
A. I started writing fiction as a child, it was lots of fun having that kind of power to make your characters do what you wanted (sometimes). When I discovered poetry, it was somewhat of a mystery to me. I wanted to discover more, if I had known it was going to take lifetimes, I might have stayed with fiction.
Q. You have published many collections. Is there a through line in your work, one theme that carries you forward?
A. I’m not retrospective about my work or body of work. I barely finish a project and I am already diving into the next. I am always excited about the next project. I don’t believe there is an overall theme, there is a distinctive voice however; if there is an overall theme, that might be for others to determine.
Q. What kinds of concerns fuel your thinking?
A. What concerns fuel my thinking these days are mostly the world, my place in it; the people in my life and how we take care of each other. How can we learn how to live in a community and what it means to be human.
Q. Tell me about your latest collection. What was the inspiration?
A. I bought a book, The Butterfly’s Burden by Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet. And I’ve always wanted to explore the connection between colonialism the Indigenous people in Canada have faced with the Third World, because basically we live under the same conditions. The playbook is the same wherever someone wants to take someone else’s land and I believe there is strength in solidarity, so I wrote From Turtle Island to Gaza.
Q. As a Anishnaabe/French Canadian person why is writing poetry important to you?
A. I don’t know if being half-breed made poetry important to me. What it did make me understand is the importance of someone’s story. As a child, in my home there were two versions of everything, the French-Canadian version and the Anishnaabeg version. I would go to school and hear nothing of these stories so I decided I would tell them myself.
Q. Why did you settle in Vanier?
A. Settle, it’s a loaded word for some of us. I like Vanier, the people are friendly, mostly blue collar, I guess. I have friends here. What most of Ottawa knows about Vanier is Montreal Road, because that’s what they see going through. What they probably don’t know is the rest of Vanier is a good place to live and it’s because of the people.
Q. Are you sustaining yourself by writing or do you need to do other kinds of work?
A. People ask me if I make any money off writing poetry and I usually answer them with this question, “When the last time you bought a book of poetry?” So I keep the wolves from the door by working in construction and writing on weekends.
Q. What’s next for you? More writing?
A. Of course, more writing. I’m working on a stream of consciousness or unconsciousness, it depends on what time of the morning it is, tentatively called, A Heavy Steel Wing. After that I want to go back and rewrite a collection of poems, When They Called Me Papillon. And after that I want to begin my John Wayne Poems.
In town: David Groulx’s From Turtle Island to Gaza (Athabasca University Press) will launch May 16 at 7 p.m. The event is at Octopus Books, 116 Third Ave. For tickets and information: octopusbooks.ca