The East Side Of It All, by Joseph Dandurand

Joseph Dandurand, in his fourth book of poetry, lays bare the Indigenous experience in the rugged Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Lives filled with drugs and alcohol, injustice and abuse, poverty, death and despair that he treats with tenderness, understanding and compassion. Some are scenes or stories that we, as non-Indigenous people, think we know from reading newspapers or as bystanders or observers giving thanks for our secure harbours.

In the opening poem, ‘This is My Path’, Dandurand exposes the observers: “We close our eyes when a junkie slips by us on a freshly wetted sidewalk as the city tries and tries to wash away the odour of those who sleep beside the walls as if they await entry back into this castle where all the food is kept.” And Dandurand says: ‘I walk on, into the centre of hell . . .’

It is uncomfortable when the poet pokes at our smug safety, asleep in our beds, hearing only the squeaking wheels of carts collecting pop cans or beer cans in ‘Violins’.

. . . and the half-a-man stops and picks up an old needle and checks to see if it has a drink of the black demon but it never does so he tosses it for the next half-a-man to pick up and repeat as the squeaking wheels begin to sound like violins of a pathetic symphony . . .

Hope offered in the poems comes through memory and family and nature. And from the young who will take up the drum:

“. . . and they sing new songs and they stand and shout to the world that we are still here and will never leave . . . and we are the ancestors of our future as a child picks up a drum and begins to sing a new song given to him from long ago.”

In ‘There is Always Laughter,’ Dandurand writes, “Our people struggle but there is always laughter. This is a gift that will never be taken away nor will they ever change us. We even laugh at funerals, laughter covering the pain for yet another lost soul gone too young and too tragically.”

These painful and occasionally uplifting stories are told in stunningly direct and honest language, and though hard, must be read as we as settlers bear responsibility.

About the Author: Joseph Dandurand is a storyteller, poet, playwright and member of Kwantlen First Nation located on the Fraser River about twenty minutes east of Vancouver, BC. He resides there with his three children. Dandurand is the director of the Kwantlen Cultural Centre, artistic director of the Vancouver Poetry House and author of three other books of poetry, I Want (Leaf Press, 2015), Hear and Foretell (BookLand Press, 2015), and Sh:LAM (The Doctor) (Mawenzi Press, 2019 and one children’s book The Sasquatch, the Fire and the Cedar Baskets (Nightwood Editions, 2020). Sh:LAM (The Doctor) was shortlisted for the 2020 Dorothy Livesay BC Book Prize for Poetry.

  • Nightwood Editions
  • ISBN: 9780889713802
  • Paperback / softback
  • 5.5 in x 8.0 in – 96 pp

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About the Reviewer: Patricia Sandberg escaped a law career and became a writer. Her short stories have been shortlisted in competitions, published at The Cabinet of Heed and in the Lit Mag Love Anthology. She is hard at work on a World War I historical novel. Her 2016 award-winning, nonfiction book Sun Dogs and Yellowcake: Gunnar Mines, a Canadian Story is about life in a uranium mine in northern Canada during the height of the Cold War.