Karen Connelly’s Come Cold River

If you hold even the slightest concern about protection of vulnerable people,  Come Cold River is an important poetic perspective on what should be understood as Canada’s leading systemic human rights concern – the disappearance and murder of aboriginal women.  Come Cold River is also a hardball demonstration that good poetry can and should address complex and discomforting issues.  Human experience isn’t all  tulip beds and sunny days.

Come Cold River was published in 2013 by Quattro Books; just a bit over 100 pages for eighteen bucks, it’s worth bringing home.

Karen Connelly is a Canadian author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry who has authored eleven books (at the time this was first drafted in 2016). She begins Come Cold River with a short introduction containing a well-considered comment about her relationship to her country and her culture

The name of my country is the word of an ancient (and living) nation.  Or it is nothing.

In context of the social, cultural and political currents of Canada’s indigenous people, and more pointedly, Canada’s indigenous women, those two brief sentences offer at least one key to access some of the hard-locked language of the book.

The introduction is followed by why the poem?, which acts as explanation and exposition of the form of the effort.  As the starting point, there’s a fine (and not yet alienating) mix of imagery and intellectual ground setting.  The cold river has not yet come – we’re still standing on the banks, but we know where we’re going.

why the poem?

because no one will hear it

Connolly is telegraphing that a risk borne by aboriginal women, like poetry, is often and commonly unheard.  I appreciate that Connolly has created a book of poetry that is not merely a collection of poems – but has design and intention across the entire work.

In 2016, evidence that Canadian society is beginning to care enough to respond to murder and abuse in one of Canada’s most targeted groups is starting to appear.  Amnesty International has a campaign called No More Stolen Sisters, the federal government has launched an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, and information about the subject is becoming more readily available – information such as the Native Women’s Association of Canada Fact Sheet. When Connolly published Come Cold River, she included a far more succinct statement on the issue – the poem, Enough – which, over ten pages, incorporates the names of 68 of the women and girls who were victims of a murderous lunatic, and even a murderously lunatic cultural inheritance, in British Columbia.

If you are not a Canadian indigenous woman, Come Cold River can fill in gaps of experience, gaps of shared cultural relevance – gaps of understanding.  The Speed of Rust will inform you that

…it’s hard to consider

celebrating Canada Day

with anything but a scream.

Connolly’s book reminds me of Nietzsche’s invocation against states in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, “Somewhere there are still peoples and herds, but not where we live, my brothers….State is the name of the coldest of cold monsters.”  There may be a hundred or a thousand ways to demonstrate that our common state, Canada, has not represented and protected us all equally; Come Cold River argues, quite clearly, that aboriginal women have not been provided equal protection.


Photo: Courthouse in Brantford, Ontario. Circa 2015, taken with a cell phone.

Revision History Notes: All content on www.ericadriaans.com and www.thedrutherspress.com is subject to edit and revision. Whenever possible, dates of revisions will be note.  Original post 07/31/2016.  Updated 05/21/2017.


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