Approaching Fire

Author: Michelle Porter
Genre: Aboriginal Resources, Non-Fiction
Format: Paperback
Pages: 200
Dimensions: 5.25 × 8.25 in
Weight: 1.0 kg
Published: October 14, 2020
ISBN: 9781550818536

In Approaching Fire, Michelle Porter embarks on a quest to find her great-grandfather, the Métis fiddler and performer Léon Robert Goulet. Through musicology, jigs and reels, poetry, photographs, and the ecology of fire, Porter invests biography with the power of reflective ingenuity, creating a portrait which expands beyond documentation into a private realm where truth meets metaphor.

Weaving through multiple genres and traditions, Approaching Fire fashions a textual documentary of rescue and insight, and a glowing contemplation of the ways in which loss can generate unbridled renewal.


  • 2020 BMO Winterset Award longlist
  • The Miramichi Reader’s 2020 Most Promising Author Award


“This is truly a profound and important work, filled with jaw-dropping lines; deeply, deeply moving—and riveting. Braiding strands of history, genealogy, oral tradition, family culture, poetry, Porter has created a lyrical, structurally innovative, original memoir. This is a rare kind of book that speaks to all of us about lost stories, of the yearning to recover/uncover the past that informs our understanding of the present. Not for historical accuracy alone, but because the smallest details of our past become the road map that leads to this ‘now’ we are living and points to how we might grow more fully into who we are. With Porter’s dedicated quest to connect with her ancestors, readers travel through time in a book that sometimes reads like mystery, moves us like the happy/sad music of the fiddle, and burns us with fire ignited by the gentle fierceness of a loving truth-seeker.” – Sheree Fitch, author of You Won’t Always be This Sad and Kiss the Joy as it Flies

Approaching Fire is an exploration of absence, erasure, and the irrepressible yearning to discover what has been suppressed… With little to go on, Porter creates something of a scrapbook of her hit-and-miss search: a patchwork of poems, semi-scholarly expositions on the science of controlled burnings and intergenerational traumas, and excerpts from an oral history going back to the dying days of the buffalo hunt… Porter’s poetry shines, especially as she focuses on the often anguished and frustrated experience of her quest. Some of the best poems employ metaphors of beadwork—negotiating the needle’s passage, the blood of a pricked finger, the tension of threads. Ultimately, Porter does not answer all of her questions, but merely posing them and letting them hang might be enough. It might also help mark this book as part of an emergent decolonizing literature, a kind of shadow companion to Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading. Think of it as an unreading of history: a reckoning with all that has been written off, written out, and written over.” – Heather Menzies, Literary Review of Canada

“Michelle Porter is likely one of the most magnificent writers I have ever had the pleasure of reviewing; her mighty and metaphorical work compares the dignity and heartbreak of generations of Metis in the core of her identity, to the wildfires in her homelands and inside herself… Michelle Porter, in telling her family story, has so beautifully compared herself to the fireweed, the beautiful growth after the burning lands. The healer, carrying the stories for her ancestors and the ones that will come after her, who then will hear the fiddles and feel the ground thump from the feet of the step dancers who shared the freedom of Bob Goulet’s fiddle. Share the dignity of a lineage from a ‘half-breed’ man—a Metis man, Indigenous and European blood, Red River blood.” Patty Musgrave-Quinn, Atlantic Books Today no. 92

“I’ve never read a book quite like this before… Approaching Fire is a documentary you can hold in your hands, in which, rather than being a passive witness to scenes unfolding, you become immersed in a river of poetry. Author Michelle Porter uses a mixture of genres to create an account of her journey to uncover the history of her Métis roots, stretching from Newfoundland to British Columbia, Alberta to Saskatchewan, and finally digging deeply into Manitoba. Michelle travels through the stories she was raised on, using them as a base from which to understand the accounts of others, learning all she can about her Great Great Grandfather, Léon Robert (Bob) Goulet, renowned fiddler and performer. Her Pépé. In his story, her story, a wider history of the Métis people is told. A history of racial discrimination, stolen land rights, and the question of what truly unites and defines Métis identity. This book blazes with poetic beauty, and a voice Canada needs to hear.” – More Books Than Days

“Michelle Porter’s Approaching Fire is an incredible book – searching, finding and sharing the story of her great-grandfather, Métis fiddler Bob Goulet. Fittingly, there is such a music to this book: it moves in movements.” – Chantelle Rideout, Atlantic Books Today

“And thus, by poetry and prose and the careful unearthing of the truth, is history rewritten. This beautiful work is both lyrical and powerful and worthy of several reads.” – The Minerva Reader

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