Hard Fought: David Groulx’s A Difficult Beauty

The poetry in David Groulx’s fourth book, A Difficult Beauty, is grounded. Grounded in Groulx and his personal history. Grounded in the dirt and dust of Elliot Lake, the boom/bust town where he grew up, and the uranium mine where his father must have worked, the miners’ houses full of radiating dust and radon. Grounded in work: in addition to poems about mining, there are poems about the time before and after work (much of it in hotel bars), about roofing and the particular skill of keeping a cigarette lit with sweat dripping off of your nose. Grounded in the history of settlement and the present of protest: there is a poem about the Mayflower (“I remember when I was / young / my mother gave me a plastic model of the Mayflower . . . It just wasn’t in me / to put together / the strange canoe / with its little white Indians”); there are poems about Gustafusen Lake, Oka, Burnt Church, Caledonia and Ipperwash. Grounded in race: there are poems that try to tease out the many meanings of being both Ojibwe and of French ancestry (the poem “Half” looks at the many other examples of mixed blood, from Star Trek’s Spock, half Vulcan/half human to Jesus, half human/half god) and many good poems that look at “Indians” and whites looking at each other:

“The Indians Drink”

In the golden nugget
the Indians drink
with their backs against the wall
they watch the white people dancing
sometimes the Indians dance too
sometimes they don’t
sometimes they just watch
like it’s a white people powwow

Many of the poems in A Difficult Beauty are anecdotes, small stories, often about Groulx’s family history or the people around him. They are good stories, well told, and poignant for their shortness and surprise. So many of them mix pleasure and pain:

“One Swollen Afternoon”

She came by yesterday
to puff some weed with me
her face was swollen
she got drunk with her
old man last night
her eyes were nearly shut
her mouth was the same

she sits with me
has her smokes
and her drinks
we laugh a little

she says her mouth
hurts when she does

What I appreciate about A Difficult Beauty is its sense of miscellany and Groulx’s ability to understand what his poems are doing. These poems are comfortable in themselves and the stories they tell. Sound, rhyme, complex metaphors, similes, and allusions don’t get a whole lot of attention here, but the poems probably work all the better for it. Many of these standard poetic concerns seem to shear off because of the difficult places Groulx forces his poetry to go: how often do you read a poem about a highway being built through a reserve or about the cops shooting a dog hit by a car?

There is little beauty here, but, what beauty there is, is hard fought for and rendered well.


Shane Rhodes is the author of five books of poetry including his most recent X (2013), and Err (2011 and a finalist for the City of Ottawa book award) both with Nightwood Editions. Shane has also published three earlier books with NeWest Press. Shane’s poetry has won an Alberta Book Award, two Lampman-Scott Awards, the P. K. Page Founder’s Award for Poetry and a National Magazine Gold Award. Shane is the poetry editor for Arc and is the 2013 Queensland Poet in Residence in Brisbane, Australia.


Arc Poetry Magazine: Grounded in the dust of words

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