Runaway Dreams

Runway Dreams cover

Runaway Dreams

by Richard Wagamese


  • July 2011
  • ISBN 978-1-55380-129-0
  • ebook ISBN 978-1-55380-135-1
  • 6″ x 9″ Trade Paperback, 138 pages
  • Poetry

Having developed an impressive reputation for his many novels and non-fiction works, Richard Wagamese now presents a collection of stunning poems ranging over a broad landscape. He begins with an immersion in the unforgettable world where “the ancient ones stand at your shoulder . . . making you a circle / containing everything.”

These are Medicine teachings told from the experience of one who lived and still lives them. He also describes his life on the road when he repeatedly ran away at an early age, and the beatings he received when the authorities tried “to beat the Indian right out of me.” Yet even in the most desperate situations, Wagamese shows us Canada as seen through the eyes and soul of a well-worn traveller, with his love of country, his love of people. Through it all, there are poems of love and music, the language sensuous and tender.

“In Runaway Dreams, Richard Wagamese astounds us with his poetic breadth and spiritual alertness. He is equally comfortable and impressive writing about nature, love, jazz, spirituality, or the brutality of residential schools.” —Robert Hilles, Governor General Winner for Cantos from a Small Room

Click here to read an excerpt from The Canada Poem
The Canada Poem

Looking out across the lake and seeing
how the mist seems to hold it all together
so that even the loon calls seem connected
to the side of the mountain standing
tall and proud as a chief
or a medicine woman
the forest dropping to the shore
like the fringes of buckskin the stone
of the cliff at the turn of the lake
a shining bead in the flare of the rising sun

it all comes together of its own accord
and all you can do is stand here
and take it in and hold it like a breath
you never want to exhale
these radiant shining moments
that have come to be the foundation
of your time here

when you think of this country now
it becomes as perfect as this vista
this lake and these mountains stunning
in the magnitude of the force of them
resting together on the power of detail

like when you watch your wife cutting
glass for the art she forms with a kiln
seeing how the minute bits of silica
fused together become something more
by virtue of the vision she has
of their wholeness

her story began on a convict ship bound
for the shores of Western Australia
and continued in the buying and the selling
of her great-grandmother on a Fremantle dock
a West Indian black whose face you see
in the line of her face when the light
catches it just so or the direct way
she has of looking at you telling you
with the strength of that level gaze
that the chains that bind her to the past
are forged from love and the knowledge
that her story, her life, is not just what
you see but the sum of its parts
like a lake shining at the foot of a mountain

your story began in a residential school
in northwestern Ontario where your family
was hung upon a cross of doctrine
that said to save the child they must
kill the Indian first — and did almost
except that you were born
in a canvas army tent in a trap-line camp
set beside the crooked water of the Winnipeg River
tucked in a cradleboard on a bed of spruce and cedar
hearing the Old Talk cooed and whispered
by the grandmother who could not save
you in the end from being
scooped away and taken to a white world
where the Indian was scraped away
and the rawness and the woundings
at your belly seeped and bled
their poisons into you for years

both of you adopted
from the shelter of arms
that held you first
the story of you edited
by crude punctuation

and the journeys that you took from there
led you to extraordinary places of dark
and light and all shades in between
the acts of discovery and reclamation
adding to the image you hold now
both of you willing to tell it to each other
so that you know that what makes you stronger
is the coming together of those stories
the union of your lives the harmony that happens
when the weave of things is allowed to blend
all on its own accord
a confluence of energy and spirit
that the Old Ones say occurs without any help from us
the detail of things defined by Creator’s purpose
and fused together into wholeness
like a lake shining at the foot of a mountain

so you look across this stretch of Canada
and it’s as if you can feel the whole of it
shimmer beneath your feet like the locomotive
thunder of a hundred thousand hooves of buffalo
charging into history
or the skin of a great drum beating
carried in the feet of young men dancing
grasses flat for the gathering of people
come to celebrate the sun
and the wind that blows across the water
becomes the same wind that blew across
the gritty, dusty faces of settler folk freed
from the yoke of Europe the tribe of them
following the creak of wagon wheels
forward into a history shared
by diverse peoples with wondrous stories
told around fires
that kept them sheltered from the night

so maybe this is what it comes to mean
this word, this name, this Kanata
the Huron word for village that has
come to mean “our home”
maybe in the end it’s a word for one fire
burning where a circle of people gathers
to hear the stories that define them

Click here to close the book excerpt.

Reviews & Awards:

Winner of the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness

“Richard Wagamese’s first book of poetry, Runaway Dreams, is beyond a revelation, it is simply great stuff from beginning to end…. If more books of poetry were like this one — poetry would actually be popular.” —Michael Dennis

“Reading the long poem is normally a difficult pastime, Wagamese is in skilled command of his materials and makes following his longer efforts as easy as slipping into a warm bath.” —Pacific Rim Review of Books

“The poems in Runaway are introspective but not self-absorbed, intimate, nature imbued, respectful and reverent.” —BC Bookworld

“If I had to make a comparision, I would consider Wagamese, with his opposition to the prevailing culture of our time, in line with Allen Ginsberg, with a mission to uphold the ‘beaten down’ and oppressed of society. To some extent, Wagamese is incomparable because of his unique talent and singular frame of reference.” —Anne Burke, The Prairie Journal

“His style is free. It resembles prose and thought — the runaway thinking of us all.” —Joyce Atcheson, Anishinabek News

“If there is a theme to Runaway Dreams, it is the shared longing of all to leave a legacy when we go. The shared fear we will not…. Runaway Dreams is a magnificent story spoken in poetry.” —Media Indegina

“[These poems] possess a deep attraction because of the heartfelt honesty instilled in the writing. Wagamese embraces life in a huge bear hug, and his enthusiasm becomes unstoppable.” —Prairie Fire Review of Books

“If there is one theme that runs through this collection it is movement—as physical and spiritual travelling, as journeys toward the Old Ones, as displacement and as reconnection, as search for home and identity—”so that planting flowers becomes an Injun thing”—set against the theme of simply being: on the land and embraced by love.” —Canadian Literature