During the latest instalment of the Canadian Writers in Person series on Jan. 26, poet Gregory Scofield spoke about his 2011 poetry collection Louis: The Heretic Poems. York teaching assistant Dana Patrascu-Kingsley sent the following report to YFile.
Canadian author Gregory Scofield visited York on Jan. 26 to read from his 2011 collection Louis: The Heretic Poems, which explores the private and public narratives of Métis leader Louis Riel.
A Métis poet, Scofield teaches First Nations and Métis literature and storytelling at Laurentian University, and has worked with the Gabriel Dumont Institute to develop and promote resource materials on traditional Métis art practices. He has written six volumes of poetry and a memoir, and his debut collection of poems won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize.
When talking about how he came up with the idea to write about Louis Riel, Scofield explained that he was aware that there were a lot of texts written about the First Nations leader, and he wondered if any of them had been written by Métis people. He discovered that accounts about Riel were all written by outsiders to the Métis community, so he “started thinking about Louis Riel as a person, not a martyr, hero or egomaniac,” and out of his desire to understand Riel as a person came this collection of poems that humanize a historical figure.
Nightwood Editions describes this volume in the following way: “Few figures in Canadian history have attained such an iconic status as Louis Riel. Celebrated Métis poet Gregory Scofield takes a fresh look at Riel in his new collection, Louis: The Heretic Poems, challenging traditional conceptions of Riel as simply a folk hero and martyr. By juxtaposing historical events and quotes with the poetic narrative, Scofield draws attention to the side of the Métis leader that most Canadians have never contemplated: that of husband, father, friend and lover, poet and visionary.”
He spoke to those gathered about being inspired to write these poems by a chance encounter with a first-edition volume of poetry by Riel. Scofield writes about identity, and thinks of writing poetry as “a way of working things out.” As he points out, he “writes about a community, from within the community.” His poems illustrate this act of “active witnessing” from within the community.
On Feb. 9, Colin McAdam will read from and talk about his novel A Beautiful Truth. Readings are free and open to any member of the public. For more information, contact Professor Leslie Sanders at firstname.lastname@example.org or Professor Gail Vanstone at email@example.com. All readings are held Tuesdays from 7 to 9pm in 206 Accolade West Building, Keele campus.