Andrew Suknaski George Melnyk - Essay

George Melnyk

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Suknaski's poems [in Wood Mountain Poems] are multiculturalism in action. With dogged determination he packs his poems with Ukrainian and Dakota Indian words or with the broken English of accent-laden ethnics. In his own way, he is defending multiculturalism as part of the Canadian literary reality. His daily language is the dialect of prairie people shouted in beer halls, in fields, at church dinners.

In a sense, one can think of his concern for ethnic voices as a lamentation. These voices are dying. Indigenous cultures are disappearing. The old immigrant voices are passing away in the West as fast as their agrarian civilization which sprang up so suddenly a brief 75 years ago. (p. 17)

The Indian of the West provides a prehistorical, mythic consciousness; the ethnic experience is a painful history. Suknaski is both the itinerant campfire storyteller and the historian, (he collects material for his poems from books and old manuscripts as well as from conversations and personal memory)….

[He] has turned the shame of speaking broken English into the pride of being poetry. His poems do not run away from his origins, his class, his ethnicity; he's transcended the usual derision and discrimination by turning into his origins, making the ugly, beautiful….

He's tried to get away from the concept of poetry as a theory of language. Instead, he's developed a poetic form and a prairie sound that is taken from the land and the people of the land. "The idea of found poetry, which claimed that what people said, properly edited, was art, influenced me…." (p. 19)

George Melnyk, "Suknaski: Multiculturalism in Action," in Quill and Quire (reprinted by permission of Quill and Quire), Vol. 43, No. 1, January, 1977, pp. 17, 19.