A thrilling collage of short poems, David Groulx’s From Turtle Island to Gaza stands out and apart from whatever else you’ll find on the bookstore poetry shelf. There are a lot of ways to talk about colonialism, but not very many that get to the heart of the matter. Instead of merely focusing on colonialism and postcolonialism in Canada, Groulx is an Indigenous poet who looks at a Palestinian perspective as well.
Groulx uses a minimalist approach, and many of the poems offer linguistic and cultural commentaries on Indigenous histories. One of his poems is on the hunger of Windigos, which works on multiple levels, seeming to reference both colonial assimilation and the controversial poem “ID Card,” by Mahmoud Darwish, one of the greatest Palestinian poets of our time. Darwish’s poem contains themes of hunger and anger, and has been compared to Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Some have interpreted the poem as hateful, despite it using the words “I do not hate people.” Darwish passed away during heart surgery in 2008. Groulx addresses Darwish, along with several other Palestinian poets, in his poems. In one piece, he asks Darwish if suicide is as common in Palestine as it is in Canada, and tells the tragic story of a young Indigenous boy who killed himself. In another, he laments about the prisons of poverty and despair, ending on a note that acknowledges death as an escape.
Groulx comes close to a perfect book of poetry, and writes an engaging and emotional collection—but it remains a collection. From Turtle Island to Gaza could easily have been a more unified book, but for some reason Groulx chose to publish a more loosely related collection of poems. That isn’t to say that it does anything poorly. In fact, From Turtle Island to Gaza hits readers where it hurts (in a good way).
Every line is well-sculpted and intentionally placed. There are no wasted words and no singular statements. The poems are sad, and the experience will not be lost on non-Indigenous and non-Palestinian readers. From Turtle Island to Gaza will attract anyone and everyone who is suffering or has suffered from colonialism, and will still appeal to other readers as well. It tugs in all the sad places. Groulx understands what he’s doing, and in no way does it feel contrived or unresearched. The separation between us is dim in the light of our similarities. It’s a message to remember. Even if you’re not one for poetry, From Turtle Island to Gaza is something that could appear on every home bookshelf.