The therapeutic power of art and the documentary power of art have met between the covers of a new book by Daniel Gallant.
The former neo-Nazi violent skinhead has turned his life around so profoundly he is now a Master's degree graduate of UNBC's school of social work and closing in on the end of his law degree from Thompson Rivers University. He is now an outspoken advocate on ethnic equality rights, gender equality rights and multicultural values. He also keeps his dogmatically prejudiced violence of the past close to his consciousness as an international consultant on the way extremists think and behave.
Now, Gallant can add the title of poet to his many role reversals. Bruise Face Child is the first volume of poetry by the academic. It is divided into five chapters: Supremacist Forgotten, Bruise Face Child, A Child's Words, Dirty War and Blue Life.
The words in these stanzas are often raw and expletive. They describe traumas he suffered as a child leading to traumas he inflicted as an adult. They swim through thick, murky waters like addiction, political brainwashing, parenthood, then his leanings towards turnaround and the redemption he is still progressing toward.
The words are also crafted painstakingly. Gallant did not write this book alone. His poetic progress was overseen by one of Canada's best known aboriginal academic poets, Garry Gottfriedson.
"It's an autobiographic poetic expression or narrative," said Gallant.
"It was my own way of dealing with my past as an abused child who became violent and radicalized. Writing was my processing of that."
Editors are often accused by writers of curtailing the power of an author's work by meddling in the creative process and introducing commercial language at the expense of personal expression.
For how many of these poems, then, did Gottfiedson offer some mentorship?
"Every one," Gallant said. "He didn't filter them. He taught me what his strategy was, then he had me filter my own stuff in front of him. He gave me guidance over how to sharpen my expressions, but it wasn't ever about putting a muzzle on my words. We did a total of nine days, between nine and 16 hours each day, all within a two-week period. He invited me to be with him and his family over Christmas in order to get the job done. He made himself tremendously available to this work I was doing."
Gallant has attempted several other forms of getting his colourful personal story down on paper, and those efforts continue, but he gravitated constantly to poetry.
"When I'm thinking, things come out abstract," he said.
"The things I see internally, the closest way of expressing it, in its disjointed structures, is in the form of poetry."
Consequently, his master's thesis contained poetry as part of that academic articulation. He is also published as a poet in a journal by the University of Leipzig, he and Gottfriedson collaborated on a mentor-mentee chapter of poetry in publication by Simon Fraser University, and he won an award for his poetry courtesy the 2012 edition of the Ut'loo Noye Khunni (Weaving Words) aboriginal writing annual event at UNBC.
He remembers the first time his writing was given any positive affirmation. He was a volatile and angry young man, convicted of violent crimes and in psychiatric custody.
"I had a book of 'songs' I called them," said Gallant. "I left it behind when I left juvvie (juvenile detention). Then, when I was 26 in an addictions recovery program, I had a counsellor there I trusted and he knew me from before. He told me that the director of the juvvie centre actually kept my book. The counsellor took it upon himself to look the guy up, he still had it, and he returned it to me at that point, years later."
He has a series of additional poetic narratives still to come, almost but not completely finished.
He is also considering how to apply his publishing knowledge and understanding of the writing process to help others publish their works.
Bruise Faced Child was released for sale on Friday, available now via online book vendors.