Robert Bringhurst at his Quadra Island Home Oct 22, 2023 (Photo by Paul E Nelson)

Robert Bringhurst The Ridge Interview Part 2

December 19, 2023
In the second of a three part interview with Quadra Island poet Robert Bringhurst, he discusses the influence of North American indigenous culture on his work and life. An excerpt:

PEN:  You’re renowned for your connection to the indigenous cultures of British Columbia. Can you talk about how indigenous culture informs this poem and your poetry in general? Obviously, the translation books, that’s very clearly the translation of Haida culture, but how does that information get expressed in your poetry work?

RB:  When I was very young, I had Navajo friends and Blackfoot friends and Cree friends, but like all the friendships of my early years, these were fairly transitory experiences. Then, by a circuitous path, I became a student of literature. I studied, as we do in North America, English literature, and some French and Spanish literature, some Italian and a bit of German literature. And then, as we do on the West Coast, I studied some Chinese and Sanskrit and Japanese literature. And as we used to do in Europe, some Greek and Latin literature too. And I spent a number of years studying Arabic. I did this out of pure curiosity, and I did it for practical reasons, the way an apprentice carpenter studies wood and oil and glue and the work of other carpenters. I thought I was getting a fairly decent education.

Through his books, I took lessons from Ezra Pound, who was a schoolmaster at heart and had a lot of things to say about what young poets should read and how they should read it. His politics were bonkers, but his ear was a good ear. I learned a lot from him and from others. But it dawned on me one day that my literary schooling had a gaping hole in the center. Except as a colonial construction, the land I was born in – the whole continent and hemisphere I was born in – was missing from this otherwise detailed map of the literary world. It was as if there were no Native American culture, no Native American literature – and I knew this to be false, though I didn’t know much more than that. In Canada nowadays, indigenous culture is piously mentioned in the schools, but it’s rarely really taught…



  1. Steve Horel

    Robert Bringhurst is a most amazing man. I will pursue his work closely now.

  2. Jonathan Stensland

    This listening is visceral and necessary; as a nest is for hatching eggs and feeding hatchlings. It is thick with significance. Actually cataloguing thing that is in all its various forms; while casual on its face, the deeply relaxed delivery is also attentive, focused, faithful to topic and topography, too an extent the time listening is an extension of a limb or a kind of limb in itself for reaching into time.

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