A Review: Giles Benaway’s Ceremonies For The Dead

Reviewed in this essay: Ceremonies for the Dead by Giles Benaway. Published by Kegedonce Press.

Poetry never ceases to amaze me. I began my writing career with pieces of poetry published here and there, but then with time, I discovered short stories and turned my attention to them. I don’t know if I will ever go back to poetry because in poetry, I find that you either got it or you don’t. The way I see it is that there is a different type of artistry that goes into poetry. It is in how a writer puts his or her words together and how these words are conveyed that make a certain piece sing.

Ceremonies for the Dead is the debut collection by emerging indigenous writer Giles Benaway; it examines the haunting themes of intergenerational trauma, abuse, and inherited grief. The words in each poem of this collection have a special way of tugging at you, making you feel the pain and the hurt of the poet. There were several poems that really struck a chord with me, but one in particular was “Advice for Abused Children,” in which Benaway writes of a pain that I’m familiar with—the one of childhood abuse, the one where as a child you are helpless to stop the abuse and perpetrators famously say, “Everything was your fault.”

During one stanza in “Advice for Abused Children,” I was almost in tears as I read

“if you have any sudden desires to escape

by breaking down and telling school officials,

you should remind yourself that you are a liar

who deserves every rough word

and sharp jab.”

But then three stanzas later, you feel the resistance of a fighter coming through with the following words

“whatever you do

never forget to stop fighting

and just let it happen as many times

as it needs to.”

Ceremonies for the Dead is a great debut collection. The poetry within is breathtaking in its depth, courage and beauty.  It can also make you laugh with bits of humour and satire sprinkled here and there. Giles Benaway is a poet to watch.

To see more of Giles Benaway’s writings, you can visit his blog.

About the author

Christine Smith (McFarlane)

Christine Smith (McFarlane) is a Saulteaux woman from Peguis First Nation and a contributing editor at The Toronto Review of Books. She has a regular column in the Native Canadian Newsletter, and freelances for Anishinabek News, First Nations House Magazine, Windspeaker, New Tribe Magazine, and firstperspective.ca.