Vera Manuel devoted her life to encouraging others to free ourselves through the use of our personal voices. Telling the truth is disarming, speaking your truth is a generous and healing gift.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Reconciliation Through Poetry

March 2014:
I have been participating in an unusual project, Reconciliation Through Poetry, which was conceived as a thank you gift in honour of Chief Robert Joseph. Five local poets received out-of-the-blue invitations to accept a commission, to write a poem to the theme of reconciliation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that each poet received the request with a great deal of emotion and sensitivity, and went through a reconciliation process unique to each person, where he or she is at in life as a person and as a poet, and then what this outrageous request was commanding of us. For some, there was an almost karmic ring to the invitation: for others, minds flipped through a list of "more political" poets, who might have been more appropriate to the task. In other words, all of us had to engage with the question, "Why me?" in order to arrive at the yes or no response required of the email.

No doubt for Chief Robert Joseph, "Why poetry?" might have flickered through his mind, when the idea was first raised in discussion, following perhaps the "Why me?" of accepting the award in all of it's affiliated aspects.

January 2015:
Vancouver's Year of Reconciliation has drawn to a close, and the call for nominations for a new Jack Blaney Award recipient ends next week. Reconciliation Through Poetry participants have received the framed excerpts of our poems that were on display at both the Vancouver Public Library and Vancouver City Hall over the past year.

The full poems, with bios of poets and of Chief Robert Joseph-- the person whose exquisite contributions to collective dialogue and peacemaking we were called together to honour-- are all available online for those who wish to read more deeply into the project.

About Chief Robert Joseph

The Poems:

Among the many poems read, videos viewed, conversations held, and papers reviewed in preparation for writing the poem that I wrote in honour of Chief Bobby Joe, there is one academic paper that I particularly admired, that I would like to share here. For me it is important because it engages with the question, why Canadians don't care: it is a matter of functionality, the function of our collective way of doing things that sustains the malfunction of the collective. The way out is, as Vera Manuel well knew and as Chief Robert Joseph affirms, through speaking truth.

I don't feel finished with this project, or even with my own poem, but I do like the excerpt that has returned to me in the mail:

the wreck of the self-deceptive nation
struggling toward transformation, we are
coming into being

writing a new song of wholesome
on the stinking bones of our
undefended regret

heat of transformative anger shed
the colonial project unmasked, interrupted

Rita Joe: I lost my talk
Chief Robert Joseph:
 Am I a human being?

Looking forward to further evolutions of the reconciliation through poetry possibilities. 

Vera's poetry and her legacy work to the same ends: personal as well as collective healing through reconciliation of disparate stories into shared truths.

Three poems by Vera Manuel