“Progress” by Emma LaRocque

LaRocque’s poem runs with the “Earth poet” rapidly down the page, “busy / weaving,” “placing,” “quilting,” “making,” “singing,” “tipping” and “touching / the land.” However, following this rapid, dance-like progression down the page, the poem loses its rhythm and becomes mired in having to “look at / cold steel spires,” presumably of modern architecture.

The poem has very short lines, facilitating the changes in pacing and visualization. The indented lines work like dance steps to accent the natural imagery and the “Earth poet”’s songs. The rhythm and structure collapses in the left-justified final lines, when “modern man” steals the environment and the dance.

Thus, both the form and content of the poem contrast two models of perception and response to others and the world, one surrounding the dramatic “Earth poet” and the other surrounding authoritarian “modern man.” The poem also suggests a narrative of change, in which the voice of the poem (the “me”) is forced to “look at / cold steel spires” which disrupts the rhythm and imagery laid out by the “Earth poet.”

Progress by Emma LaRocque

Earth poet

So busy



into words

so busy





so busy


the sun


so busy


your songs

in circles

so busy



in dreams

Earth poet

so busy


the land


mad modern man

must make me

look at

cold steel spires

stealing earth and sun


Note: This poem was originally published in Canadian Literature 124–25, with an error on line 29. In print, the line reads must take me, but should have read: must make me. The correct version of the poem, as intended by Emma LaRocque, appears above.


For help with critical reading, see “Close Reading Poetry.”

  • Perspectives: Compare and contrast the perspectives and attitudes of the magical “earth poet” and of the “mad modern man,” especially regarding their environments and actions towards others.
  • Pronouns: How does the speaker (“me”) of the poem respond to and position these two figures (“you” or “modern man”)? What roles do these figures play in our understanding of the speaker’s identity and values?
  • Sun / dance: The “sun / dance” is a repeated phrase in this poem. How does this imagery function in multiple ways within the poem (as an important Indigenous cultural practice, as the actions of the sun itself, and as an object of theft)? How does each aspect add to your understanding of the poem?
  • Colonial disruption: How might the heavy indent of the final line undermine the finality of the full stop at the end of the poem? Does the “Earth poet”’s dance end there? What does this tension between visual and verbal modes of interpretation suggest about contemporary Indigenous cultural practices under colonialism?

Works Cited

  • LaRocque, Emma. Progress. Canadian Literature 124–25 (1990): 137. Print.