Saturday night Al Hunter read poems from his newly released third volume of poems titled Beautiful Razor: love poems and other lies. It was an unexpectedly powerful event, held at Trepanier Hall (the American Indian Center.)
What made the reading compelling was the accompaniment by a set of guest musicians that included Kathy McTavish, Frank Montana, Michael "Waabi" Furo, Jake Vainio and Larissa Desrosiers. The eclectic instrumentation -- cello, flute, guitars, keyboard -- produced a wonderful backdrop of sound that amplified the sometimes haunting, sometimes melancholic emotion in the the readings.
Once the musicians were in their places, Bill Howes took center stage to welcome us. "Tonight there will be emotion, with both pain and pleasure." He noted that this special gathering was hosted by the American Indian Community Housing Organization.
Miss Larissa DesRosier opened the show with a breathy version of "One Light Left In Heaven" before Al Hunter commenced. The size of the audience was impressive, not what one would expect for a poetry reading. But then again, this was no ordinary reading.
Hunter comes in, perches himself center stage, and prepares his material on a music stand. The cello lays a foundation as the lyric flute gives wing, producing a backdrop to the opening lines… leading into the loss of innocence… “to the darkness of mental destitution and dissociation.” The mood created by McTavish’s cello intertwined with the song of the Native flute enables the pulsing words to penetrate more deeply.
The piano joins in...
“We are the same, you but a girl, I but a boy… lost in middle age, may we someday return to our healing… may we be guided… back to our place of souls, back to where we belong.”
“It was my mistake to think that we could return to shores that we once loved… to think that we could light the fire that had grown cold… to think that we could find the flowers that grew in winter… to think that we could return to the miles already gone… “
Hunter's phrasing and word rhythms evoke a sense of mystical incantation. At one point I was reminded of a Jim Morrison recording I'd once heard. Morrison himself had been influenced by Native culture.
Hunter's "In Your Absence" was another especially powerful reminiscence. He introduced the poem with these words: "This one has a kind of pow wow story where you go to a pow wow and you’re looking for someone and it’s Sunday night and they never showed up." The delivery and the mood created by the musicians gave these simple lines a memorable potency.
In your absence they sang the horse song. I could not deny it. I danced it for me and for you.
In your absence they sang the hummingbird song. I could not deny it. I danced it, for me and for you.
In your absence they sang the star song. I could not deny it. I danced it, for me and for you.
In your absence they sang the clan song. I could not deny it. I danced it, for mine and for yours.
In your absence they sang the forever song. I could not deny it. I… I… I… yes, I… yes, I…. yes, I… yes I… yes I…. yes I…. I truly … yes I truly…. Yes I truly… yes I truly… yes I… truly…. Danced alone.
Yes I truly… danced alone.
Hunter’s delivery carries gravity, emerging from a life lived with grave earnestness. Hunter is a former chief of the Rainy River First Nations. His first books of poetry are titled Spirit Horses and The Recklessness of Love. Both of these and Beautiful Razor can be found at Kegedonce Press.
Photos on this page by Stephan Hoglund courtesy Ivy Vainio.
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