Friday, June 26, 2009

Reader's Diary #503: René Fumoleau: Here I Sit

I had a couple reasons to be nervous reading René Fumoleau's collection of poetry Here I Sit. First off, Fumoleau was an Oblate priest and since I've not read a great deal of religious poetry, I didn't know what to expect. Secondly, Fumoleau spent over 40 years in the North, mostly amongst the Dene, as a priest, a photographer, an author, an historian, and, among other things, a friend. He's achieved near iconic status around these parts and I wondered if it would be tantamount to heresy to say anything negative.

I can rest easy. Only but a handful of poems dealt with religion directly (i.e., made reference to God, Jesus, the Bible or the church), and since I enjoyed the book as a whole, I only have positive things to say.

A very unpretentious book, I realized I had to get rid of my own hang-ups before getting into it. I'm usually among the first to say there cannot be a universal definition of poetry. I've viewed it as a personal schema, resting more upon the reader than the poet. But with many of the early entries in the book I found myself thinking, "this is not a poem, this is a short story with weird line breaks" or "this is just a conversation, it isn't a poem." Before long, however, I followed up such comments with "who cares?" I was enjoying them, whatever their classification.

That freedom to love and be oneself is one of the more common themes found throughout Here I Sit and it was hard not to be drawn to the man behind the poems.

Not that it was all peace, love and understanding. There was also quite a bit of politics, and Fumoleau took aim at many, especially the wealth, power and fame seekers, not the least of which included the government and perhaps surprisingly, even the church.

Here I Sit is an unassuming book with plenty to say.

by Rene Fumoleau

During a land claim negotiation meeting,
the Minister of Indian Affairs addressed the Dene:

"Your fatherland covers over 1,000,000 square kilometers,
and you possess all rights over those 750,000 kilometers.

As long as the sun shines,
you may occupy those 600,000 kilometres.
As long as the river flows,
you may roam freely over your 400,000-kilometre heritage.
However, your 200,000 kilometres are part of Canada,
and Canadian laws will prevail over your 100,000-kilometre land.

In case non-Dene settle on your 50,000-kilometre domain,
and want to share the resources of your 20,000 kilometres,
my government will protect you anywhere
within the boundary of your 1,000-kilometre region.
Your children too may live for ever on your 500 kilometres,
in guaranteed security on your 100-kilometre territory.

Following our agreement about your 50-kilometre tract,
I will provide you with a Canadian flag
which you may fly anywhere on your 10-kilometre property,
as a sign of our friendship treaty regarding those 5 kilometres.

Even if the national interest requires
that you give up the one square kilometre you own,
I will ensure that you will still have enough land
on which you can stand and fly a kite."


Kate said...

What a brilliant poem!
I'm going to have to track down some more of his writing.

Allison said...

I second that, what a great poem. Fit my reading style perfectly.

Judy said...

I've seen several of Fumoleau's poems quoted here. They are lovely and quite relevant!

I'm looking for another one that I thought was entitled "Here I Sit". I haven't been able to locate it under that name though, only the book. It was read at a meditation retreat. It begins with the poet noticing an older native man sitting, looking out over the horizon. Intrigued, he asks "the sitter" why and what he is thinking about.

Does this ring any bells? I'd really appreciate any information you can give me.