Many Voices

Integrated class Craigflower Elementary 1956

When I’m asked why I began to look for poems to include in Many Voices I tend to say it was because Robin Skelton, then my teacher, asked me to think of an important book that was absent from our literature and then do something about it. Although that is true, and it seemed obvious to me during this period of resurgence of First Nations arts (in the early 1970’s) that there must be more Native Canadian poetry being written than was being published, I think, more simply, it was because when I looked at Canadian Literature the gap where this work should be was painful. I’d spent my childhood on Vancouver Island and had been privileged to watch Chief Mungo Martin carving in Thunderbird park; and I was part of a social experiment (as I learned much later from the historian Patrick Dunae) that explains why in an era of Church-run residential schools for most Native Canadians, there were First Nations students in my elementary school classroom. I remember these students well— and was impressed by their accounts of the real work they did with and for their families and of their lives which were  so different from mine.

At the time of embarking on the Many Voices collection I was also re-examining what I’d been taught of Canadian History. My co-editor, David Day, was researching and writing about the Mounties and recasting that mythology; I wrote a film treatment for the story of the death of Almighty Voice and read, and reviewed wherever I could, work by or about First Nations:  for every north American Indian who begins to disappear I also begin to disappear, a book of essays; Harold Cardinal’s The Unjust Society; Waubageshig’s book The Only Good Indian; the biography of Duke Redbird, Red on White;  Alan Fry’s controversial  How a People Die,; David William’s, The Burning Wood;  the Mouse Woman stories by Christie Harris; the Beothuck Poems by Sid Stephen, and many others including work by George Clutesi, Chief Dan George and Sarain Stump. My views were passionate and sometimes intemperate and fueled the tremendous amount of work it took to search out poems many of which existed on scraps of paper in the poets’ homes or pockets, or in small-circulation local newspapers or in First Nations political publications and pamphlets. The wonderful Alberta-based  poet, Sarain Stump, who had published a book (There Is My People Sleeping) with Gray’s publishing on Vancouver Island, died before the anthology was published. It saddens me still that the life-span of this talented writer and artist was so shortened.

It wasn’t easy to persuade a publisher to take on this project: we tried many avenues, but the publishing world consensus seemed to be that no one would be interested in work by Native Canadians. Then J.J. Douglas stepped in and the book appeared and did what we had hoped it would: to act like a stone thrown into a pool and send out ripples which might evoke a response.

ISBN 0-88894-134-X
Out of Print

ISBN-13: 9780888941343


Many Voices: A Review

Authenticity in this vexatious textual sense is not an issue with the David Day/Marilyn Bowering anthology Many Voices. The editors’ energetically inclusive selection ranges from B.C. to Cape Breton, and in age from Okanagan slate-carver and poet George Lezard (b.1886) to writers three generations younger. For an American equivalent to this excellent anthology, one thinks of Duane Niatum’s Carriers of the Dream Wheel — but it is clear that Day and Bowering have been much more adventuresome as editors, tapping into strong poetry wherever they found it amongst Canadian Indians. They say: “We have selected the poems on the basis of merit and `voice’ alone and have not wished to make a social statement. The poems speak for themselves.” Indeed they do, in compelling combinations of native “tradition” and “individual talents” — and if no Canadian writers have yet attained the stature and recognition in their country that Momaday, Silko, and Welch have in the U.S.A., anthologies like Many Voices will hasten that recognition.