Review: Runaway Dreams by Richard Wagamese

2017: 31
3 of 5 stars
Published March 2011

I’m not a reader of poetry. I never really have been once I left school and the enforced poetry classes were done. I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t relate to it though I could appreciate it some of the time. I tried to read a collection by Margaret Atwood in conjunction with one of the Bingo challenge squares and didn’t get on with it at all. I thought I’d try one more, by another author I admire. This one went a bit better.

Richard Wagamese is an Ojibway, one of the First Nations in Canada. The two books of his that I’ve read so far were beautifully written and the stories absorbing. I thought I might have a good chance of liking his poetry because he has a beautiful way with words.

For me, I was brought up (in school) with poetry that rhymed, that had a rhythm. I find it difficult to think of the type of modern writing as “poetry”. I think I’d rather read it in normal paragraphs, like a journal entry or a letter or something. For me, this style is a stream of consciousness chopped up into separate lines of varying length. There may or may not be a rhythm. The language may flow or it may be choppy and spare. It might be obscure or it might be easy to figure out what’s being said. But I can’t think of it as poetry. Not in the traditional sense.

But the language is flowing and lovely, the images stark, quiet, and evoking of a spirit or state of mind that you get when you have a few decades of experience under your belt and have arrived at a good place, emotionally after turbulence in your life. He speaks of his own past, of the older generation’s wisdom, of the spirits he feels in the world around him. His turn of phrase is skilled. I can, at least, make sense of what he talks about. It’s not vague, or metaphorical (or if it is, I’m not catching it) or obscure. I feel bad that I can’t really appreciate it as much as I know it should be.

The fault is mine. I don’t really have the inclination for modern poetry. If you do, I think you would really like Wagamese’s work and rate it highly. I plan to read more of his novels and I know I will enjoy them.

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