Calling Down the Sky cover art | Image source: mcnallyrobinson.com
April is poetry month and lately Indigenous poets have been front and centre in the news. Halifax just appointed their first Mi’kmaw Poet Laureate, Rebecca Thomas, who is known for her powerful slam poetry. Thomas grew up in Moncton NB and received her Masters of Social Anthropology from Dalhousie University and has done extensive work promoting poetry. She has organized workshops, volunteered with the Youth Slam Poetry Team and is the captain of Slam Master, Halifax’s adult team.
Another slam poet in the news is Mary Black, a 23 year old Ojibway actor and resource worker from Winnipeg whose poem, Quiet went viral this year with over 80,000 views. Black shares raw, unapologetic words as an Indigenous women refusing to be silenced by the mainstream. Black wrote the poem in one hour before making the video.
Here are eleven books of poetry by talented Indigenous poets.
1. Beautiful Razor: Love Poems and Other Lies by Al Hunter (Anishinaabe) Kegedonce Press 2012
Al Hunter is a former Chief of the Rainy River First Nation in Northern Ontario where he belongs to the Caribou clan – carrying the role of reconciliation, peacemaking, arts and creative traditions. This is his third book of poetry published by Kegedonce Press. Beautiful Razor: Love Poems and Other Lies, explores an expanse between the sensual and the profane; the distance of which can sometimes be vast or sharp like a razor’s edge.
Giles Benaway is an emerging Two-Spirited poet often compared to Truman Capote and Thompson Highway. In 2014 he was awarded the Speaker’s Book Award for Young Authors for Ceremonies of the Dead, his debut book. Ceremonies of the Dead is full of black humour and satire as it explores themes of intergenerational trauma, cyclical abuse and inherited grief. The book highlights the determination of Indigenous people ability to survive and resist colonization while sustaining their culture and identity.
3. Calling Down The Sky by Rosanna Deerchild (Cree) Bookland Press 2015
Rosanna Deerchild is a career broadcaster that has worked for APTN, CBC, Global and NCI-FM who has been storytelling for more than 20 years. She is also an award winning author and poet, who is also a regular contributor to several news outlets and founded the Indigenous Writers Collective of Manitoba. Her recent book, Calling Down the Sky is a collection of poetry about the effects that the residential school system has had on its survivors.
4. Discovery Passages by Garry Thomas Morse (Kwakwaka’wakw) Talonbooks 2011
Garry Thomas Morse is a fiction and poetry writer who was also a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry and the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 2012. He resides in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he works casually as a commentator for Jacket2. Discovery Passages, reflects on the written history and oral traditions surrounding the ancestral people from Alert Bay to Quadra Island to Vancouver.
Joanne Arnott was born in Manitoba in 1960 and studied at the University of Windsor for her B.A. Last year Arnott was one of the lucky few writers shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award (League of Canadian Poets). Halfling Spring is a poetry book full of complex prose, compelling in depth soulful reflections accompanied by the work of artist, Leo Yerxa. She explores themes of intimate relationships, the electronic age, globalization, traditional life and mass communication.
6. Kipocihkân: Poems New & Selected by Gregory Scofield (Métis) Nightwood Editions 2009
Gregory Scofield is a poet, playwright, teacher and social worker based out of Vancouver.
Scofield’s work is based on his life experience, especially with his family. He was raised by his mom, aunt and in several foster homes in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. He was the Writer-in-Residence at Memorial University and worked as a youth outreach worker in Vancouver. Kipocihkân: Poems New & Selected is an retrospective anthology of the author’s work to date.
Beth Brant self-identified as a Mohawk, two spirit, feminist writer and activist. With no formal writing education, she started her writing career at the age of 40. Her inspiration came when she and her partner were on a drive ‘through Iroquois land’ when an eagle swooped in front of their car. She said that the eagle sent her a gift – the gift of writing. Mohawk Trail was published within a year of her starting her writing career and is one of her most recognizable works. The book is a collection of poetry, short stories and essays – many of which are autobiographical. Sadly, Beth passed away last August 2015 and we are grateful to have her words.
Katherena Vermette is a poetry and fiction writer who has been featured in several literary magazines including Manitowapow: Aboriginal Writings from the Land of Water. From 2010-11 she was the Blogger in Residence for writerscollective.org and is now pursuing her Masters in Fine Arts Creative Writing at UBC. North End Love Songs is her latest collection of poems, which has received Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 2013.
9. These Threads Become a Thinner Light by David Groulx (Ojibwe) Theytus Books 2015
David Groulx was born Northern Ontario and got his B.A at Lakehead University before studying Creative Writing at En’owkin Centre in Penticton, B.C. The author is mostly known for his book, Wabigoon River Poems, which was received well by critics. They often praise his writing style as brilliant, “honest, lucid, and relentless in its efforts to understand the injustices heaped upon an unsuspecting but thriving culture.”
10. Peace in Duress by Janet Rogers (Mohawk/Tuscarora) Talonbooks 2014
Janet Rogers is a poet that works in spoken word performance, video, recorded music and written poetry. Janet was the Poet Laureate of Victoria from 2012 to 2014. While she was born in Vancouver and currently resides in BC, her community affiliate is Six Nations, Ontario. Peace in Duress focuses on the activism which highlights environmental issues, irresponsible resource development and territorial disputes.
11. That Tongued Belonging by Marilyn Dumont (Cree/Métis) Kegedonce Press 2007
Marilyn Dumont is an award winning poet who has three published poetry books under her belt and has been the Writer-in-Residence at several universities. She has taught at Athabasca University and the Banff Centre for the Arts. That Tongued Belonging celebrates the humour and tenacity of women, derides the ignorance of Indigenous issues, addresses the degradation of Indigenous women and challenges the ideas of love, age and femininity.