The Nashwaak Review and Mi’kmaq Anthology II. She works as a cultural interpreter and community ecologist at Bear River First Nation, Nova Scotia, where she lives with her two daughters. Generations Re-merging (Gaspereau Press, 2014) is her first book.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
A printed/published book is different to my usual oral storytelling and spoken word/reading poetry that i do. There is a kind of comfort in that oral tradition. Something this permanent was nerve-wracking, but poetry is so very dear to my heart and was my first artistic medium as a child. Publishing a book was a fantastic phase for me. My life changed in that i made that commitment of sharing so open and public. i no longer have control over who experiences my art as it is no longer within a certain setting and me performing live. With that are both positive feelings and challenges. Above it all, i published with purpose: to share messages, stories, and art. i want other Mi'kmaq to know that we are welcomed in the world of poetry and literature. i feel blessed and honoured to have this book. i have a renewed sense of place.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
i say that poetry was first, although now that i look back, fiction was almost there as well. i was a shy child and found it difficult to find kin friends. With many moves (father in the military), i ended up finding my own comfort in reading and writing in the school yard instead of running around the playground with the others. i had this non-stop imagination and crafted fiction in my mind. But the day i wanted to write, i chose poetry because it appealed to the even more artistic place i could go. In poetry i had to choose my words so very precise and meaningful. i had to find the rhythm so very precise in my own intention. i wove meanings and artifacts from my worlds around me. i fell in love with the power and challenge of one page.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
For poetry, i have a few various modes i work under. My favourite mode and the majority of the poems in this collection are from when an analogy or moment fills my head in words. i have it then. Almost entirely. i have to find paper quickly to gather the inspiration. (These are usually moments after digesting an event in the community or my life, or from experiencing a wonderful experience on the land.) Editing takes a year off and on to chisel away at a few lines or word choices, making sure that i used the best fit. The majority of my pieces, though, are partial ideas or concepts that i must work on in quiet bits of time over the course of 6 months to complete.
i must have silence to write. Which, with two young children, it means that more crafting is done late at night. A full collection will take a few years to compile if i continue this way.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
My pieces are separate things. i am working on other writing that are more connected purposefully. However, most poetry i write are separate pieces and not linked as a book until i feel they are ready to be joined in a certain order, and only certain pieces that have a way of telling a larger story by the end.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Reading poetry is so new to me! As an oral storyteller i very much need that listener engagement as i craft edits or new stories. With my poetry i write in silence and edit them in silence, whereas public readings are not silent places and it just doesn't sound "right" to me. But as people enjoy hearing my tone and expression to better connect to the pieces, i will continue to read for them.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
For me, i'm trying to answer how we arrived here in certain struggles as Mi'kmaq, part-Mi'kmaq, as Nova Scotias, as humans with issues of unsustainability. And alternately, where i hope we are headed. For example i want to understand which themes Mi'kmaw communities are wrestling with are actually universal themes. If it makes sense that we struggle for identity as throughout ancestral history and around the world, so too struggle in many histories and modern contexts, perhaps these are human struggles. Although it doesn't alleviate these challenges, it might help put focus on what we can do to work through these things. My answer is one of hope,.. holding onto those same teachings of flux and transition, so too are the challenges and the state we're in. These are all temporary. What comes next is up to us.
The pieces and the book are personal stories and not every one addresses directly these questions, but because those are the concerns that fill my mind everyday they come out in my poetry as well as being the reason i want to share them. I'm examining my own life in ways i believe others are examining theirs.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
i was taught many wonderful ideas about the role of the writer/storyteller/poet in a community or culture. Some, like other arts, are the mirrors by which we can see ourselves or each other a bit more fully or with more meaning. Some are prophets or medicine people bringing us visions of the past or the future for us through stories and writing.
Mostly, the writers/storytellers are our teachers, passing along teachings for us to learn and remember through story. With this in mind, many more people should and can embrace storytelling and writing as modes of living in a family in community, even if not professional writers. In some way, we all need to share storytelling. How else can we share such depths of who we are, without arts and without story. Tom King reminds us that perhaps all we are, are stories.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It is usually only my written work that receives an outside editor. And i have always found it helpful. They become the check-point and looking glass for my own self and writing, so that i can be sure that i reviewed the corners and edges from other angles i might have missed. The editors have asked good questions of my intent and use of certain parts of story or phrasing. At the same time, you need an editor who understands various influences your work has and what you need to keep intact to honour your vision. Those editors need to trust my judgement as i theirs. So far so good.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
i remember years ago wise women describing human nature to me, describing the roles and powers of women and they made sure that i understood that when i begin to feel hurt or loss or chaos, that i need to not fight against it, not suffocate it, not ignore it,.. but ride with it. They taught me to trust and to feel the very core of what came. Recovering, staying balanced and true to the human experience are important lessons in life. i usually follow that advice and it has made for such a rich life. i have learned how to collapse without breaking too much of myself,.. how to hold onto inner strength and pick myself back up. And i find inspiration from others who model that for me.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to performance to storytelling)? What do you see as the appeal?
They have been natural mediums for me. i find certain inspiration needs to be told through a short story,.. or a performance,.. or a poem. i find the right fit and tell it. i am also drawn to music and use song at times. This teaches me that i am an auditory learner and artist. Some stories i want to share might need a few different versions and i love playing with that as well.
i naturally think in storytelling. i am addicted to weaving words and stories. i am always crafting,.. constantly,.. every single day. While i wash dishes... while i load my children into the car,.. while i walk the trails looking for rare plants on my fieldwork days,.. while i sip tea late at night by the window,..
However, i cannot grasp visual arts as well. It amazes me to watch painters, sculptors and choreographers, etc, work!
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
i'm not a good routine person. i write when i need to write. However, most of the time daily work or mother duties trump spontaneous inspiration and it makes me uneasy until i get the chance to write what had been waiting. i mourn all of the stories i never wrote.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Always the woods. Or a stream. From there i imagine our past and our future. There is also the calmness that i need to write, to be able to hear my stories and poetry in my mind.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Pine and balsam!
Or a salt water breeze.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
i wish that i had time for more books, music, science and visual art. Luckily my ecology work and mothering take me back to nature and provide the time even when i am not writing to capture that influence. i think the other influence is getting to know people better. The deeper i get to understand others, i grow more empathy, purpose and intrigue to human story.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Listening to Elders speak is very important to all of my work.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
i have a very long list. But i'll share one: live as a hermit.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
i would be a non-writing ecologist. Or an herbalist.
i'm sure i could think of more lives i'd love to live.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
i didn't choose it. it came and i accepted the task.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Book: i've returned to Green Grass Running Water (Tom King).
20 - What are you currently working on?
Oohh... i'm writing some very fun things. i just haven't decided how long or short and which ones connect to which. They are short stories or a short novel in chapters.... i'm listening, i'm accepting.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;