Monday, September 22, 2008

Thoughts from Oodena


"How long will $100 last in a crack pipe?"

"Not long."

"If you smoke the memories of your son, will they last longer?"

"Yeah."

The words above are from a poem Jordan Wheeler read at the opening night of the Writers Festival (and forgive me if they are not Jordan's exact words, I'm quoting from memory). Before last night, I had never heard of Jordan Wheeler. When he took the stage, the small cobblestone circle at the bottom of an amphitheatre near the point where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red, a place called Oodena, he told us how he was asked to write something about Winnipeg, something that speaks to his relationship with the city.

Before beginning, he apologized to the City Councilor standing behind him for what he was about to say. He laughed a little, and so did the 100 or so people seated and standing around him. He then went on to read three of the most honest and unflinching pieces about the lives of aboriginal people in Winnipeg that I have ever heard. He spoke about disease, about addiction, about tasers, about poverty, about "Sweet Honey Brown" women found in the river downstream from where we sat, and about fathers who have lost their sons. He spoke of the cycles that keep people living these lives, and he did so in a way that could shock the complacency from anyone.

I had intended for my contributions to this blog to be about the craft of writing, and I went to last nights readings hoping to glean some insight into this topic. But Jordan's poems really grabbed me, as they probably did to so many of the people there, and they haven't let go.

I spent the next while trying to figure out why. Was it the fact that there was a City Councilor seated behind him, that he was speaking truth to power? Was it the immediacy of the images he conveyed? Was it the tone he spoke in? The experience he spoke of? I couldn't pinpoint it. I still can't.

As he finished, as people began clapping, I noticed a few gulls swooping through the sky above. As they flew, some turned their stark white stomachs towards the last glint of sun still showing, warming themselves in that warm dusk-light. I thought of how they have always flown over this spot and how I hope they always will. I thought of how, for thousands of years, people have sat where I was sitting and have listened to others tell stories, and how I hope people always will.

I then thought of the stories Jordan told. I hope he will continue to tell them, but I do not hope that he will always have to. I thought of how, with writers like Jordan telling their stories, there are good reasons to hope.

Thank you Jordan.

* * *

Brad Hartle likes books. One day he may try to write one, though nothing is certain. For now, he spends his days in the basement of a big stone building in Downtown Winnipeg and his evenings in a big brick apartment in Crescentwood, where he lives with his wife, two cats, and a scattering of toothpicks, needed because he refuses to see a dentist. He is almost always happy.

1 comment:

courtney said...

Brad,

thank you for writing about this. I was also so moved by Jordan Wheeler's poems, but was having a really hard time trying to articulate the feelings his words brought up in me.
I really loved how, in the first poem, he kept interspersing the line "poets ask for change" with all of these fiercely honest images of racism and white supremacy that are acted out on first nations people everyday day in this city.
it left me with a sense of conflict over what it means to ask for change.to use words to bring awareness to what needs to be changed.
You did such a good job portraying what it felt like to be there, listening to these powerful and poetic words strung together in a way that gives life and visibility to all of the silenced lives, violence and brutality that is the ongoing and unrelenting
experience(s) of first nations people in this city.

I would also like to thank Jordan.

And I would like to thank you for thanking him.
And for writing this amazing entry.