CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

John Robert Colombo

Ottawa, Oberon Press, 1989. 110pp, paper, ISBN 0-88750-765-4 (cloth) $23.95, 0-88750-766-2 (paper) $11.95

Grades 4 and up/Ages 9 and up
Reviewed by Joan Skogan.

Volume 18 Number 3
1990 May

Who comes?
Is it the hound of death approaching?
Or I will harness you to my team.
(Copper Eskimo)

Songs of the Great Land will be a rich discovery for readers who didn't know Canada's first people created poems of such strength and beauty. The collection is divided into eight parts: earth, song, livelihood, love, life, battle, power, and invocation. Each section contains poems - some only a line or two, others a narrative - that speak directly out of lives connected to both the physical and spiritual worlds.

The intensity of these song-poems could have been enhanced by the careful line spacing and emphasis the translators gave to similar works in Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas (Van der Marck, 1969,1986). John Robert Colombo has chosen, instead, to use a repeated linear form for each poem and has not credited the translators. Nor are the poems placed in any context other than the names of the tribes. Some pieces are attributed to "British Columbia n(s)."

Teachers and students "researching" rather than reading for pleasure will want to be cautious about the introduction to Songs of the Great Land, whose discussion of the public, perhaps ceremonial, use of some songs as opposed to the individual creation of other pieces is confusing.

Neither the introduction to Songs of the Great Land nor the lack of acknowledgment on the cover that this is an edited collection of poetry made by Indian and Inuit people can diminish the impact of poems like "Little Song":

And I think over again
My small adventures
When with a shore wind I drifted out
In my kayak
And thought I was in danger.
My fears
Those small ones
That I thought so big,
For all the vital things
I had to get and to reach
And yet, there is only
One great thing,
The only thing:
To live to see in huts and on journeys
The great day that dawns,
And the little light that fills the
(Mackenzie Eskimo)

Suitable for reading aloud to the Primary grades

Joan Skogan, Vancouver, B.C.
line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works