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The Thunderbird Poems

Cover of The Thunderbird Poems

The Thunderbird Poems

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Norval Morrisseau's revered work has been honoured, copied and recognized throughout the art world and beyond. Less widely known but equally captivating is the artist's personal life story, which poet and biographer Armand Garnet Ruffo related in his powerful narrative biography, Norval Morrisseau: Man Changing into Thunderbird (Douglas & McIntyre, 2014). Ruffo immersed himself in the life and work of the artist, gaining insight into the struggles and sources of inspiration underlying Morrisseau's greatest works through research and interviews with the artist himself—a connection further strengthened by their shared Ojibway heritage.


His lengthy study of Morrisseau inspired Ruffo to write poems reflecting on both the works of art and the emotional context in which Morrisseau painted them. Thunderbird Poems complements the highly evocative and poetic biography, delving into Morrisseau's creative life through compressed, imagistic language, while untangling the complex and powerful threads of meaning, tradition and emotional power that resonate throughout Morrisseau's strong lines and vibrant colours.


Significant themes in Morrisseau's work are mirrored in Thunderbird Poems: Ojibway legends, Morrisseau's conflicted religious beliefs, political tensions between white and aboriginal Canadians. Significant moments in Morrisseau's life are also traced along with the development of his artistic career. Deeply immersed in Morrisseau's life story, and possessing thorough knowledge of the Ojibway storytelling traditions which grounded so much of the artist's beliefs and creativity, Ruffo provides fresh poetic interpretations of the most renowned and striking works of one of Canada's most celebrated painters.

Norval Morrisseau's revered work has been honoured, copied and recognized throughout the art world and beyond. Less widely known but equally captivating is the artist's personal life story, which poet and biographer Armand Garnet Ruffo related in his powerful narrative biography, Norval Morrisseau: Man Changing into Thunderbird (Douglas & McIntyre, 2014). Ruffo immersed himself in the life and work of the artist, gaining insight into the struggles and sources of inspiration underlying Morrisseau's greatest works through research and interviews with the artist himself—a connection further strengthened by their shared Ojibway heritage.


His lengthy study of Morrisseau inspired Ruffo to write poems reflecting on both the works of art and the emotional context in which Morrisseau painted them. Thunderbird Poems complements the highly evocative and poetic biography, delving into Morrisseau's creative life through compressed, imagistic language, while untangling the complex and powerful threads of meaning, tradition and emotional power that resonate throughout Morrisseau's strong lines and vibrant colours.


Significant themes in Morrisseau's work are mirrored in Thunderbird Poems: Ojibway legends, Morrisseau's conflicted religious beliefs, political tensions between white and aboriginal Canadians. Significant moments in Morrisseau's life are also traced along with the development of his artistic career. Deeply immersed in Morrisseau's life story, and possessing thorough knowledge of the Ojibway storytelling traditions which grounded so much of the artist's beliefs and creativity, Ruffo provides fresh poetic interpretations of the most renowned and striking works of one of Canada's most celebrated painters.

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About the Author-
  • Armand Garnet Ruffo is the author of the biography Norval Morrisseau: Man Changing into Thunderbird (Douglas & McIntyre, 2014) and three books of poetry: Opening In The Sky (Theytus Books, 1994), Grey Owl: The Mystery of Archie Belaney (Coteau Books, 1997) and At Geronimo's Grave (Coteau Books, 2001). In addition to writing an award-winning film, A Windigo Tale (2010), he has also edited and co-edited (Ad)Dressing Our Words: Aboriginal Perspectives on Aboriginal Literatures (Theytus Books, 2001) and An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English (Oxford University Press, 2013). He is an associate professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen's University and lives in Kingston, Ontario.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 11, 2016
    Writing his 2014 biography, Norval Morrisseau: Man Changing into Thunderbird, Ruffo immersed himself in the varied experiences of the renowned Ojibway artist, who died in 2007. This collection, in which Ruffo poetically explores and reflects on some of Morrisseau's most striking artworks and his life story, is more than just a great complement to his primary study: it is an imaginative, authentic interaction with the artist's culture, context, and art. The tensions that ripple through Morrisseau's work, such as his conflicted religious beliefs and the troubled relationship between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people are sublimated in Ruffo's poems. "Indian Jesus Christ, 1974" and "White Man's Curse, 1969" isolate the trauma of abuse that Morriseau suffered in an Indian residential school, which shaped both him and his art. "Man Changing into Thunderbird (Transmigration), 1977" and "Astral Thunderbird, 1978" reflect his expressive and shamanistic growth, while poems such as "Androgyny, 1983" and "Untitled (Thunderbird and Canoe in Flight, Norval on Scooter), c. 1990s" explore the ecstatic and transcendent. Morrisseau saw himself as a vehicle of Anishinaabe tradition, but he was also a mythmaker in his own right. With these poems, Ruffo steps into the mythopoetic and takes readers with him.

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Armand Garnet Ruffo
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