08 April 2009

National Poetry Month

While Harold Horwood (1923–2006) was best known as a novelist and journalist, he was also a labour organizer, literary editor, political columnist, and spent a term sitting as a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly under Joey Smallwood’s Liberal government from 1949–51.

Horwood brought his small book of Labrador poems, Cycle of the Sun, to Gaspereau Press on the recommendation of our mutual friend Harry Thurston. Horwood’s visit was one of the most awkward introductions I’ve ever had to an author. Horwood spent the majority of the meeting with his back to me, seemingly indifferent, examining the contents of my bookshelf. After listening to me trying to carry the conversation for a while, he muttered something like Well, okay, let's do it and left. From there on in, we worked by correspondence, which was equally cryptic. I have to admit I rather enjoyed our too brief association.

The text of Cycle of the Sun was composed in Garamond using a Ludlow hot metal caster and handprinted in a limited edition. The books were handbound by then Gaspereau editorial assistant Christine McNair, who went on to study book arts in England and is now a book conservator and poet in Ottawa. This poem is also reprinted in the poetry anthology Gaspereau Gloriatur: Volume 1. — AS

Caribou Hunt
Harold Horwood

Over the Kiglapaites the white gyrfalcon
divides the heavens like a falling star
or tilting over the cliffs of Saglec Bay
cleaving the vault of air
above a country where the rioting
of races far to the south like summer thunder
is heard but faintly. No one has ventured here
excepting those who travelled out of the North,
the people of the walrus and the bear.
Far south, within the shelter of the treeline
the Innu read the oracles of bones
seeking for spirit guidance, how to confront
steel birds that thunder over the spruces
scattering death. They chant of Jacopish
in the sky and Atik-wennabeo in the forest.
I wish them well, although I truly fear
that the game lords will withhold their favours
while the land lies cursed under the white shadow.
All this is not for me, an Inuk wandering
far north of Goose Bay, northward from Nitassinan
here where the steel birds in an elder time
burst through my father’s dreaming,
and left their bones on the cliffs.

My homeland is the barren ground—I travel here,
watching the waving fields of cotton grass
in copper-coloured revelry,
rock, peat bog, caribou moss,
stone-studded lakes where the osprey hovers
between cloud and cloud-shadow, all of it empty
of humankind. But the grey wolf lives here
in the month of the hunter, following the deer,
moving ghost-like along the edges of green dawns—
grey forms, their ankles clicking like clocks on the grey stone
as day breaks diamonded cobwebs on a frozen marsh.

So I sit here brewing tea at the door of the tent,
and sing you this song, Old Man of the Caribou,
that your heart may be glad,
and my belly may be full.

Copyright © Harold Horwood, 2005.

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