Thursday, April 07, 2005

Friday, April 01, 2005

Book Review - The Blue Road

The Blue Road :-

Travelling I consider as an extremely useful exercise.

It sets the mind in movement.


To position this work among what we’ve come to categorise as ‘Travel Literature’ would, I’m sure, lead the author to a Prufrockian ‘ That is not it at all/That is not what I meant at all.’ Yes it gives an account of a journey from Montreal to the Ultima Thule of Labrador, yes it describes and comments on the physical landscape and the people encountered. But there is more, much more. What the author is attempting to do, I feel, is get to the very essence of this space, move out beyond the signs, the labels, the preconceptions and to convey to the reader his experiencing of the way-out- there of this journey, through the landscape/mindscape of himself and its inhabitants.

It is fairly well known that Kenneth White writes in three genres – essays, poetry and the ‘Way Book’ of which The Blue Road is arguably his finest example. White himself says that these books are hard to categorise, being neither fiction nor poetry, which is not surprising given that his whole ethos is an attempt to live, think, experience and be ‘outside the box’ – whatever or wherever that box might be.

White is never content with description alone, although he’s not short on that facility. What he seeks,I feel is an immediacy with the landscape which he achieves in two ways. Firstly, a widening of perception, getting in, inside and underneath description,

---the whole of the North is still a cold enigma to most Canadians,

While to the Amerindian it’s full of live realities --- something like

Poetic space to the normalized mind.

Secondly he is constantly engaging with the people on the land, the people who feel the land, who have genetic memory of that land, again not in a descriptive, superficial way but directly and empathically. Most of us, I'm sure, being engaged in conversation by two drunks on a train, would be content with platitudes of the ‘nice meeting you,’ ‘must get on type’? White’s approach is genuine interest in these two Indian boys resulting in an invite to a wedding and access to a depth of information simply not otherwise available.

Another such encounter with a woman selling beaver pelts in a small shop leads to a visit to her uncle, a modern day Amerindian Shaman who introduces the author to the mysteries of the drum in Amerindian culture.

When he’s in the woods,he says, he beats on the drum to call the caribou.

And as he tells me about it, his phrasing seems to become more rhythmical,like this:

When you go up into the woods

when you’re up there in the woods

you consult the drum

you use it like a TV set

you see what you’re going to kill

when you hunt with the drum--------

Poetic space.

White’s field is boundless, open and inviting to anyone prepared to take the risk and travel there. Like me you may find some stony ground, some difficult places, but the bright clear-cut diamonds are plentiful.

All afternoon I sit there,listening.

With evening falling,I murmur this into the wind

I’m living today

but I won’t always be living

red sun, you’ll remain

dark earth,you’ll remain.

Charlie Orr

Edinburgh April 05