By Garry Gottfriedson
Reviewed by Rain Keeper
Whiskey Bullets is not your average poetry session. It is quite aways down range from mother earth, has a venomous bite, and is a collection of soul searching passion absolutely off the beaten warpath. Gottfriedson puts a lot of umption in his gumption and holds nothing back. The two best poems in Whiskey Bullets are Saturday Night in Church and Political Questions.
Saturday Night in Church perpetuates the religious side of cowboyism if there were a cowboy heaven. And a balding Jesus himself impersonating a Marshall Dillon as they elegantly sing “How Great Thou Art” to the cowboy who is impersonating Jesus. What makes this poem interesting is the gay formated colours, notwithstanding its style and narrative. Its elevation is tight, leaning slightly towards propaganda, but it does have its effect to the desired response for its audience. The articulation is emancipating, down right liberal for an *Aboriginal from the Tk’emlups Reserve. It is a barbarous domain and Gottfriedson displays a teasing relationship with colourful secrets. Saturday Night in Church has race issues, sexual under meanings with a mix of counter intrigue. The strangeness to this poem has an interesting insight that is down right ironic.
Now for Political Questions. If you guessed it, you are right, it is about ‘Cowboys and Indians’, again. And if a cowboy was intimate with an Indian they would have produced offspring together. Religiously and politically they would be half-breeds called ‘cowdian’; this is not to be confused with *Metis peoples. And it was the cowboy who picked the forbidden fruit in the first place in the Garden of Eden. Believe it or not, Columbus was a real cowboy, and besides we didn’t partake of that fruit until his arrival. But it is that satirical question that bugs me about Cowboys and Indians intimately, be it a political or religious questions, or both.
Political Questions is a poem that can be confusing if you are not an *Indian and if you do not understand Indian politics. Although it is extraordinary that a basic cognitive process has not been given to it, save for the Americans. All those who fear politics or religion are forever damned. And at the end of the climax of this poem it says “and remember God was a virgin.” Whether it is blasphemy or poetry its only a question God can answer; Gottfriedson keeps alive the relationship between cowboys and Indians, its politicking endeavors, its religious enterprise, and last but not least peril and symbolization.
The outside world may think Garry Gottfriedson’s poems to be prophetic or mystical or down right absurd. But Whiskey Bullets: Cowboy and Indian Heritage Poems is the outside world to the other side of the coin. Gottfriedson writes rough and tough rodeo poetry that will buck you off the page. It reads like a Shakespearian wild, wild west Injun style; the poems have the *Secwepemc drawl shape shifting Gottfriedson’s collective wittiness.
Gottfriedson thinks out his words carefully, maybe on an old Thinkpad, or a brand new Notebook, playing the keyboard like a laptop junkie. His poetry spurs true grit, he rides it like a stockbroker rustling cattle on the open stock exchange, and for that readers will like him. Paleontologists pose no threat to Gottfriedson’s diligently digging up the old west. And discovering the good, the bad, and the ugly buried deep beneath the past and displaying it like a fist full of dollars for the world to see. He’s a fearless warrior-writer rustling up that grub feeding his decomposing blood brothers into legendary ranch hands, and that maybe is the realism with which he sculpts his collection.
Besides all these cowboy junkies, who knew Indians could be so poetic? Gottfriedson is like Billy the Kid, the lone gunman on the grassy knoll. His back is to the sun, his fingers itching for a six shooter, blazing brute honesty that would make John Wayne roll over in his grave from blunt force trauma.
Whiskey Bullets engages the dark side with waging individualism. Gottfriedson himself, as a *First Nations person, has the mental aptitude to leap beyond boundaries. His poems are intriguing, stranger than mythical totem carvings that are truer than the honest Injun himself. A rare collection of poetic witticism that is not too witty that it keeps back all expression, it reminisces about the old west, about bronco busting. But nowadays we all know that the Wild West has fallen deep in to slumber. Sure, you can still take in a rodeo or two. Or do as their counterparts do and take in a Pow Wow just to gawk at one another. And like Indians, cowboys can easily adjust to hard-times just like the local ford dealer busting his bronco to sell, sell, sell making ends meet.
Gottfriedson rewrites native realism in Whiskey Bullets, guiled in both its feminine and masculine quality. Readers can investigate the dark pragmatism in this sexagenarian cowboy culture. It likes to establish substance to the meaning at hand, here we have more issues than victims and more victims than issues that it reads like the Holy Grail from a Brothers Grimm fable. It was not all that dark or dreary either. Gottfriedson is cunning and he captures the reader, and most poets are not a conga line of love poems anyways. Whiskey Bullets is an enjoyable read with poems like Shadow walk, Koyoti Indian and Guitar Player. Whiskey Bullets is quite an accomplished piece of art.
* Aborginal: First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples.
* First Nations: a term of ethnicity that refers to Aboriginal peoples in Canada who are neither Inuit or Metis.
* Indian: the term/name Christopher Columbus gave to the original peoples of the Turtle Island now known as “The Americas”. Columbus was a lost fool at sea who thought he found India!
* Metis: one of the groups of Aboriginal peoples in Canada who trace their mixed ancestry back to mixed European and First Nations peoples.
* Secwepemc: First Nations peoples from British Columbia known to most Canadians as Shuswap.
Rain Keeper is an accomplished Technical Administrator and Clerk of Statistics Canada in Ottawa. Upon leaving the Federal Government in 2000 after twenty years of service, Rain Keeper moved to Toronto to pursue his interests at the not-for-profit level. Rain Keeper has worked for a variety of organizations for the past 10 years such as NaMeRes (Native American Mens Residence), Evangel Hall Mission and the Parkdale Activity – Recreation Centre. Rain Keeper has also served as a Forensic Support Security Officer patrolling the rough areas of Toronto’s high risk neighborhoods. Rain Keeper is now working on his first novel and is pursuing a writing career; this is his second published book review.