Four Indigenous poets to check out in 2021
Atlantic Canada is home to many excellent Indigenous poets. While there are too many to speak of in this one article, here are four Indigenous poets based on the east coast of Canada, and their most recent poetry collections, worth checking out in 2021.
Rebecca Thomas, author of I Place You into the Fire (2020)
Over the last several years, Rebecca Thomas has become a major player in Nova Scotia’s poetry scene. Kjipuktuk’s (Halifax) former Poet Laureate (2016-2018), Thomas is an award-winning Mi’kmaq poet and author of several children’s books, including I’m Finding My Talk (2019) and, more recently, Swift Fox All Along (2020), which was just announced as a Governor General’s Award finalist. Thomas has also organized poetry events, including the Halifax Slam Poetry team, which she coordinated from 2014-2017.
Her debut poetry collection I Place You into the Fire is described as “incisive and vital” and explores Thomas’ emotional and powerful journey as an Indigenous woman in the modern day. The collection reflects on her experiences as a second-generation residential school survivor, while challenging readers’ actions and demanding justice.
An excerpt from I Place You into the Fire:
We remember tomorrow and a thousand years ago.
From eel weirs to the buffalo.
We remember petroglyphs and Instagram photos.
See, we remember our history,
Without statues, money, or pictures of the Queen.
Shannon Webb-Campbell, author of I am a Body of Land (2019)
Award-winning Qalipu Mi’kmaq poet Shannon Webb-Campbell currently resides in Kjipuktuk (Halifax). She is also a journalist and arts writer. Her debut collection, Still No Word (2015) was the winner of the EGALE Canada Human Rights Trust OUT IN PRINT Literary Award. Webb-Campbell touches on a myriad of themes in her poetry, including identity, cultural interrelations and community.
Her most recent collection of poetry, I am a Body of Land (2019), has also earned great critical acclaim. Described as a “re-visioning,” I am a Body of Land is an honest look into Webb-Campbell’s previous works – particularly her second poetry release, Who Took My Sister? (2018), which was pulled by publisher Book*hug following controversy. Webb-Campbell demonstrates personal accountability, while creating space for herself to address the complexities of her settler-Indigenous identity. The book was a finalist for the 2019 AM Klein Prize for Poetry and includes an introduction by revered Sto:lo poet and author Lee Maracle.
Douglas Walbourne-Gough, author of Crow Gulch (Goose Lane, 2019)
Although Crow Gulch (2019) is his debut collection, Douglas Walbourne-Gough is a strong poetic voice in the east coast. Born in Newfoundland and a member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq first nation, Walbourne-Gough is currently earning a PhD in English literature (with a specialty in creative writing) from the University of New Brunswick and holds an MFA in creative writing from UBC-Okanagan. His work has appeared in several Canadian journals and publications, including The Fiddlehead and Riddle Fence.
Crow Gulch (2019) – currently in its third printing – finds inspiration from its titular town, an area inhabited predominantly by migrant workers and people of M’ikmaq ancestry, including Walbourne-Gough’s paternal family. Of Crow Gulch, Walbourne-Gough has said: “This book is my attempt to resurrect dialogue and story, to honour who and where I come from, to remind Corner Brook of the glaring omission in its social history.”
Shalan Joudry, author of Waking Ground
Although last on this list, the work of shalan joudry is far from least. A member of the L’sitkuk (Bear River) First Nation, where she continues to live and work, Joudry explores many media, working as a poet, a narrative artist, an ecologist and more. Her debut poetry collection, Generations Re-merging (2014) tackled topics including intergenerational relationships and cultural complexities through the lens of a modern Mi’kmaq woman. Joudry has also released a play titled Elapultiek (We Are Looking Towards) (2019) that highlights both her love of her heritage and her respect for nature.
Her most recently collection Waking Ground (2020) takes her previous efforts a step further and explores the “language, landscape and legacy” of Indigenous peoples. Waking Ground serves as a direct but welcoming wake up call to the social and ecological challenges faced by many every day. The collection has been named as a finalist for the 2021 Indigenous Voices Award, in the category Published Poetry in English. It is also shortlisted for two Atlantic Book Awards: the JM Abraham Poetry Award and the Maxine Tynes Nova Scotia Poetry Award.