Canadian poet Patrick Woodcock has spent much of his life as an expatriate in diverse countries that include Poland, Iceland, Bosnia and Herzegovina,
Russia, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Colombia. In his new collection, the poet draws from the land and history of Kurdish Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Canada’s Northwest Territories.
“Yan Kurdistan … Yan Naman,” which forms the title of the first of the collection’s four parts, is Kurdish for “Give me Kurdistan or give me death.” The Kurds are spread over four countries – Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran – in a volatile region riddled with geopolitical strife, and most recently the Syrian civil war. In contrast to the conflicts that have plagued the area, Woodcock’s poem “Amedi” provides a vivid ode to the paradisaical ancient town built on a mountain plateau: “The blue blanket above the stillborn mountain, / … Amedi, you look / like a jawbone at first blush. We rush to you.” The image is serene and colourful, yet bursting with a rich and dark history.
Woodcock dedicates the second part of his collection to “all the elders in Fort Good Hope,” a charter community in Canada’s Northwest Territories. The poem “Landscape Portraits” is a series of vignettes that reinforce the importance of keeping First Nations’ traditions alive. Woodcock sketches portraits of the elders’ day-to-day experience living and working off the land. Intriguingly, if readers rotate the pages 45 degrees counterclockwise, the lines mirror shorelines Woodcock saw while travelling in the region.
“How Many Heydars” offers a fascinating glimpse into Azerbaijan’s obsession with its former president, Heydar Aliyev: “In May, Heydar stands more than 50 feet / high upon man-made mountains in front of centres named Heydar. / Heydar waves back at Heydar waving.” But while Heydarism – as his cult of personality is known – absorbs the nation in admiration, Woodcock peers through the propaganda and sees a man with horns.
You can’t bury them all looks beyond the destruction and conflict, finding instead human stories of sacrifice and history. Woodcock’s collection celebrates humanity’s strength and perseverance in the face of ceaseless adversity.