Poetry: Arielle Twist, shalan joudry, and Rebecca Thomas

I have discovered that reading poetry is a good way to add even more local books and authors to my stacks. Some writers I would miss entirely otherwise. Even better, I enjoy reading the poetry (even if some of it goes right over my head).

All three of these volumes are written by Indigenous women living in what is now known as Nova Scotia.

Disintegrate/Dissociate by Arielle Twist

This collection of poems won Arielle Twist the 2020 Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ Emerging Writers as well as the 2020 Indigenous Voices Award for Published Poetry.

What stands out to me most about this collection of poetry is Twist’s experience with gender and sexual violence. These poems tend to be graphic, but they also make a point.

… it’s boys like you who make us hard / boys like you who make us feel unlovable, a biological mistake / a game, an experiment, alive, afraid / I am the kind of girl you take on dates in dark rooms / back of bars where only rats will see her beauty / and in these dark caves you are kind…

Twist also writes about family, death, identity, the prairies, and home. I like the way she uses words – it forces me to slow down and think about what I’m reading.

Do you remember the sweetness / of freshly picked berries / between the reservations, the cities / open land, seemingly untouched by white hands? / I wish I could have seen the blood in the dirt, / the pink in our saliva, dripping on pale shirts. / I wish I could have seen the death in the grass, / the bones in our high cheeks, the mother in those seeds.

Not a cheerful collection of poetry, but a powerful one.

Waking Ground by shalan joudry

Recently nominated for the J.M. Abraham Poetry Award and the Maxine Tynes Nova Scotia Poetry Award, Waking Ground is full of images of the land; connecting to it, nourishing it, and its cyclical nature. Trees, rivers, bays, fish, birds, crabs, and butterflies.

grown and still craving company / trickster winds rile up the trees

the green crab tip-claws / pluck plucking on its hunt

there might be a flutter / a flash of orange / just bright enough / while I plant another milkweed

allow yourself to be blinded by winter’s bark / its brilliance reflected off drifts and sheen / observe the stillness in small things / tame the mind’s bustling chatter

It is also about Indigenous history with land and language–specifically in Atlantic Canada–and trans-generational trauma.

it was this maqamikew [land; ground; landscape] / who birthed our language / cradled and cawed / bellowed lightning into drumlin fields / bled fire / until we spoke of it / of mastadons / and the way rivers move

we speak our truth / when it would be easier / to stay silent

celebrate the change that brought choices and longer lives / that we exist together here now in each other’s embrace / but mourn the names and livelihoods it took away / the l’nu’k disentangled from landscape / forced to make way

unprepared, we still burst from the soil / in full bloom / mightier than what we thought reconcilable / only then learning the art of the waking ground

I cannot leave this without mentioning how beautiful the physical book is. Gaspereau Press produces beautiful works of art. The jacket is thick with a soft bumpy texture, and the words and pictures on the cover look stencilled in. The pages, too, are creamy with a subtle texture to them. I hate to give this book back to the library.

I’ve also read shalan joudry’s play Elapultiek and first poetry collection Generations Re-merging. Read my thoughts here.

I Place You Into the Fire by Rebecca Thomas

Rebecca Thomas is known for her spoken word poetry, and this style is evident in I Place You Into the Fire. Her poems are a strong reminder of everything we still have to work on together to move forward with Reconciliation.

The poems are collected into three categories: kesalul (“I love you”), kesa’lul (“I hurt you”), and ke’sa’lul (“I place you into the fire”). They speak of identity, family, trans-generational trauma, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Kesalul…

The first line of “Love Is” states that “Love is the hardest thing that we do”, and is filled with imagery of the pain, confusion and beauty of love. “It embeds its tendrils in your bones, replacing veins”, it “wraps caterpillars in their cocoons, / plants them to sprout wings in your gut’s womb“.

Kesa’lul…

Thomas has some fun in her poem “North America Rehashes her Dating History with the Discoverers”.

Hi, / My name is North. / North America. / I’m a few billion years old, but who’s counting? / We’ve all had some shitty relationships, / Amiright?! / I’m pretty independent. / I had great friends who were into what I had to offer. / I know I can be a bit rocky in places, / some of my spaces lack any kind of curve, / but expectations of perfection are a bit absurd! / And I’ll admit that there are a few salty sides to my personality. / But geez, some men like to think that they should get all the credit / for your “discovery.”

“Pennies” is a clever, thought-provoking piece on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman (MMIW).

She slays with those double braids, / She is slayed because of those double braids. / The original voice silenced from those double braids. / They can be bought and sold, those double braids. / In fact, there’s a sale at the Bay. / Look for the HBC original canoe / for your half-off Canadian-branded series of snowshoes. / Erase the creators of those goods. / Their origin and history need to be understood. / And use them for your favourite winter activities, / like lightly frolicking over her forgotten snow-covered body. / It’s buy-one-get-one misrepresentations of her story. / Just look for the nearest store occupying our territory.

Ke’sa’lul…

In this set of poems, Thomas is pretty much saying, enough is enough. It’s your turn now to do the work. Less talk, more action. “Trudeau is great and all, but statistically / I am still five times more likely to go missing.”

No more telling me who I am. / You don’t get to be mad just because you don’t understand.

We also need to talk about your expectations / for how quickly we can actually heal from your exploitation.

Rebecca Thomas is also the author of I’m Finding My Talk, which I talk about here.

Have you been reading poetry lately?

17 thoughts on “Poetry: Arielle Twist, shalan joudry, and Rebecca Thomas

  1. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    These all sound so good. I have been enjoying poetry this year – something I intend to keep going! I just finished What Kind of Woman by Kate Baer and have a collection that Cathy from 746 Books recommended, What the Living Do by Marie Howe, up next.

  2. Rebecca Foster says:

    I love working poetry into my reading stacks, usually prize nominees that I’ve gotten out from the library. And it’s particularly wonderful when, as here, it’s a way to read more from BIPOC or to choose books of local interest.

    • Naomi says:

      One thing I’ve noticed, now that I’ve got quite a few collections under my belt, is that everyone really does have their own style – I love seeing them all!

      • Rebecca Foster says:

        Absolutely! And it can be very hard to describe a poet’s style, or to pinpoint what works for you as a reader and what doesn’t. All reading is subjective, but I think the experience of poetry is even more so.

  3. annelogan17 says:

    I love watching spoken word performances, I find them so powerful, but they tend not work on the page as well for me. I’ve been curious about Arielle Twist bc her name sounds so familiar, I didn’t realize she was a poet! I don’t tend to read a lot of poetry but it can be a nice palate cleanser after a long slog of a novel hahah

  4. buriedinprint says:

    I read Arielle Twist’s collection but I remember wishing it was longer; I liked what I read but it left me yearning for a little more tissue around all those bones. I’ll have a look for the other two!

    Most recently, I read one of the books Rebecca recommended for my slavery project, Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard, which was very impressive. Very polished, very powerful. Just a handful of poems, really, but wholly affecting. (I think you’d like them, there’s quite a bit of narrative in her lines.)

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