Devil in the Woods: Poems by D. A. Lockhart

Publisher at Urban Farmhouse Press and poet D. A. Lockhart is A Turtle Clan member of the Moravian of the Thames First Nation, and Devil in the Woods (2019, Brick Books) is his latest collection of poetry. Brick Books has done an admirable job of designing and packaging this volume; my review copy came with a matching bookmark and a promotional postcard with the book cover on one side and the Roll Up the Rim Prayer on the opposite side.

Roll Up the Rim Prayer

Oh Lord, that our conveyor belt
of red tail lights might burn away
the half-light of 7:00 a.m. February
mornings, receive our prayer.

Tapped and rattled out with bit-part
change of soiled cup holders, hopeful
in the gathering of many, will come
but one transaction to save us

from the despair of long winter. Lord,
deliver to us daydreams of stainless
steel barbeques, warmth of sixty-inch
flat screens, and middle-class composure

of cobalt sedans. Because free double-doubles,
bonus donuts, and potato wedge cups
tease us like bureaucratic promises of medical coverage and housing

not given to black mold and torn-
off siding. Oh Lord, let us sing anew,
in this pre-dawn light, a chorus that shall not repeat PLEASE PLAY AGAIN.

From this “prayer” you’ll get the sense of what Devil in the Woods is about and where Mr. Lockhart is coming from. It is one of the most imaginative and yet very accessible poetry works I have come across in my 2019/2020 reading year. Besides these “prayers”, there are letters from a certain “J.W.” to various and prominent settler Canadians, past and present such as Don Cherry, Lord Beaverbrook, Sarah Polley, Bruno Gerussi, and Laura Secord, just to name a few. From there, Mr. Lockhart not only imparts to the reader some Canadian history (I had to look up a few of the names) but always from the perspective of an Indigenous person. Here’s an excerpt from “Letter to Cherry from Denis Crowfeather’s Garage at Curve Lake” (written before the demise of Coach’s Corner):

See also  Durable Goods by James Pollock

Dear Don: It’s been some time since last time
we saw eye to eye on anything. Maybe it goes all the way back to big paycheques and Rocky
Mountain highs, maybe it’s locked up in that golden eagle strut of your pow wow—infused
fancy dancing outfits showcased coast-to-coast Saturday nights. Every eyeball-busting thread
makes me understand that most all of us share
the need to strut the goods that Creator gave us as we turkey-step our lives on the old turtle’s back.

Mr. Lockhart’s irreverent humour is constructed around all-too-real grains of truth, so there’s always a bit of melancholy as J.W. writes to the settler Canadian in question.

I really enjoy this type of poetry, for it is not only accessible but enlightening, too, as there is much to gain from the Indigenous perspective via the written word.

Five stars for an excellent, inspired collection of prayers and letters from D. A. Lockhart. I am adding it to the 2020 longlist for Best Poetry.

“Rock-solid … full of heartfelt grit and conviction. D.A. Lockhart conjures the world through a catalogue of vivid particulars and a cast of inimitable characters….This is poetry that follows the ‘right crooked path’ through ‘the medicine smoke of history.’” —Campbell McGrath

Devil in the Woods by D.A. Lockhart
Brick Books

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