Poetry Month: Rita Joe, Cat Poems, and Book Spine Poetry #2

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALately, I have been working my way through Rita Joe‘s poems. If you want to know about who she is and what she has contributed to her people, to Nova Scotia, and to Canada you can find out here and here.

I have personally learned a lot about her and what was close to her heart just by reading her poems. I have a few favourites, but I’ll share with you one of her most influential poems; one that has inspired The National Arts Centre’s Rita Joe Project. This project is a nationwide challenge to aboriginal youth to  make new music based on I Lost My Talk, a poem Joe wrote about her childhood pain of being forbidden to speak her own language in Residential school.

I lost my talk
The talk you took away.
When I was a little girl
At Shubenacadie school.

You snatched it away:
I speak like you
I think like you
I create like you
The scrambled ballad, about my word.

Two ways I talk
Both ways I say,
Your way is more powerful.

So gently I offer my hand and ask,
Let me find my talk
So I can teach you about me. 


Going from the profound and meaningful to the cute and silly, I Could Pee On This is a little poem book about cats that my daughter and I read one morning last weekend as we snuggled in bed. I’m not sure if it even counts as poetry, but it made us laugh and it made us coo.


Link approves.

Link approves.




Book Spine Poetry #2

I couldn’t resist giving it another go.

See my first attempts here.

Poem #1 - Get the depressing one over with first.

Poem #1 – Get the depressing one over with first.

Hard Times

Bleak house,

A celibate season,


Moral disorder,

Blood on snow…


Poem #2 - My attempt at humour.

Poem #2 – My attempt at humour.

Inside A Good House

The capacity for infinite happiness,

An adoration,

The love of a good woman…

The Canadian housewife.


(All true, not a lie in it.)

Poem #3 - My favourite.

Poem #3 – My favourite.

The Whale

Fluke, kicking the sky.

Blue, cool water;

Where I belong.

Remarkable creatures.


46 thoughts on “Poetry Month: Rita Joe, Cat Poems, and Book Spine Poetry #2

    • Naomi says:

      Hard work that doesn’t feel like hard work. 🙂 Except when it’s time to put the books back and remember where they all came from. I wouldn’t want to mix up the already orderless state of my shelves!

  1. Rebecca Foster says:

    I love your new poems, especially “The Whale” and the wry lines about the perfect wife 🙂

    I definitely need to get hold of that cat poetry book. “Everywhere is my place to sleep / Perhaps you should just get a hotel room” is too true!

    • Naomi says:

      There were so many in there that rang true! Otherwise, I guess, it wouldn’t be so funny. Another good one was about constant attempts to trip us up. My cats have always been so good at that, especially on the basement stairs!

  2. Sarah Emsley says:

    It’s been great to discuss Rita Joe’s work with you, Naomi. I, too, have learned so much through reading her poems.

    My favourite of these three book spine poems is #2. Very nice! These are fun — I hope you’ll share more with us.

  3. FictionFan says:

    I love the poems! No. 1 is my favourite – nice and dark. Don’t you often find yourself wishing someone would use these poems as plots for their next books? I keep finding myself thinking ooh, I’d like to read that book!

    Hahaha! The cat book is sooo funny!! It’s going on my Christmas present list for sure – I know several cats and their owners who would love it…

    • Naomi says:

      The cat book *is* a perfect gift for cat-lovers!
      It’s interesting to hear which poems are favourites. Originally, in the first poem, my last line was ‘Why Men Lie’ (and I thought of you!). But I was too worried about offending someone. And, really it could just as easily be a woman, but I didn’t have a book called ‘Why Women Lie’ or ‘Why We Lie’. Anyway, I think I like it better with the blood. I also had to consult my children on this one. They like to help with my poetry, but I still haven’t convinced them to create their own. I’ll just have to keep at it! 🙂
      P.S. My youngest daughter now knows what ‘adultery’ is. Haha.

      • FictionFan says:

        Hahaha! “Why Men Lie” would have worked really well, but the blood is very effective – makes it very sinister. I must have another go too, I think – it’s addictive.

        Haha! Well, it’s never too young to learn that only Darcy can be fully trusted… 😉

  4. Bina says:

    Oh I love the third poem especially, the colors and imagery are so vivid! Also, haha omg poems by cats, how perfect! I rarely read whole poetry collections though I enjoy poetry. My favorite is spoken word though 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      I also rarely read poetry. This was a poetry-heavy month for me, but I enjoyed reading them more than I would have thought. I just might continue. 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks, Don! I haven’t seen any book spine poetry on your blog yet. 😉 Then again, you don’t need book titles to help you along like some of us do!

    • Naomi says:

      Yes, a lot of her poems have this same sadness in them, and gentle request for communication/cooperation. So sad.
      Others are about things that happened in her life, good and bad. And, others have a more celebratory feeling about culture and nature. But not nearly as many.

  5. Read Diverse Books says:

    The Rita Joe poem really moved me. My experience wasn’t nearly as bad as hers but I do relate to the losing “my talk” aspect of her poem. I grew up speaking Spanish at home and with family, but was discouraged to do so in school. Obviously to a lesser degree than an aboriginal person, but it influenced identity in some way, I feel. I can only imagine I would be a different kind of person if I was allowed and encourage to read, think, and explore ideas fully in Spanish throughout my life.
    This is not a complaint, because I love English and appreciate much about the English-speaking world, but I do wonder who I would be if I were only a Spanish-speaker. Something I’ll never know, I suppose.

    • Naomi says:

      I think it would definitely influence your identity to be discouraged from using your own language. I don’t know what your situation was exactly, but I think it would also make you feel ashamed of your own language and culture. That part makes me feel even more sad – no one should have to feel ashamed of who they are.
      Thanks for sharing your story, Naz!

  6. lailaarch says:

    I had not heard of Rita Joe before, Naomi. Thank you for bringing her to my attention. That poem was marvelous and moving.

    And I laughed out loud at the book of cat poetry! Delightful stuff! I’ll have to see if my library system has it.

  7. Grab the Lapels says:

    Oooh, the last one about whales works really well! Thank you for introducing me to #bookspinepoetry and for reading my attempts on Facebook. I’m not sure if I’ve read Rita Joe in particular, but I remember reading a story in an anthology in college that was about Native children being forced to go to schools to learn English, and it broke my heart. I grew up on a reservation in Michigan and thought about this kind of stuff all the time.

    • Naomi says:

      It *is* heart-breaking.

      I was so happy to find ‘Fluke’ (had forgotten all about it), so I could put it with ‘Kicking the Sky’! It made my day. 🙂

  8. BuntyMcC says:

    Gotta look for ““I Could Pee on This.” It made me laugh. I’ve not had a cat that pees on this and that, but my daughter did.

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