This year we feel everyone could see a little more solidarity and community, so we're getting poetically political with Poets Resist, a series dedicated to poetry as a form of resistance. Every day on the blog we will feature a poet whose work explores one of these topics: colonialism and violence, homophobia and transphobia, environmental destruction, and/or the !@#$% patriarchy.
Two-spirit Anishinaabe and Métis poet Gwen Benaway alternately stuns and heals in her latest collection of poetry, Passage (Kegedonce Press). Gwen shares her strength-giving poem "Ceremony" in today's #poetsresist interview, and how poetry "is the space I make myself whole."
ALU: What are some books that inspired or informed Passage?
GB: I was profoundly influenced by Audre Lorde’s Unicorn and Adrienne Rich’s Diving into the Wreck. Queer poetics, such as Tim Dlugos, Frank O’Hara, Robin Blazer, Ocean Vuong, and Allen Ginsberg, have also been foundational. Indigenous poetics like Kat Vermette, Lee Maracle, Gregory Scofield, and Billy Ray Belcourt, play an important role in my poetic roots. North End Love Songs is the book which had the most influence.
ALU: If you were protesting homophobia and/or transphobia, what would your protest sign read?
GB: If I was protesting transphobia, probably “Trans is desirable” and “2 Spirit Women are Sacred.” Maybe even “My girldick fucks the patriarchy” and “my pussy grabs back because I asked my surgeon to make it tight.”
ALU: Why did you write this collection?
GB: I’m interested in the relationship between Indigenous women, our ancestral lands, and our sovereignty over our bodies. I write to reconnect myself to my body and my race. I travel to my ancestors in my poetry and I view every poem as prayer. I return to what I’ve lost. I make the discarded pieces whole. I mythologize my gender and sexuality.
I try to break a path for other Indigenous people, women, men, and 2 Spirit. I want to show us as vibrant and embodied, as desirable and powerful, as complete and rooted in our worldviews. I guess I’m responding to genocide with a celebration of what still sings in us. I have a line at the end of Passage, the last line I think in the book, which is "the land goes on, even if I can’t." That’s what I’m doing: connecting generations of my people through my writing to our land and passing that connection onward to the next generation.
ALU: What does poetry as resistance mean to you?
GB: Poetry is the only part of me which anyone has ever valued. Poetry is how I’ve learned to resist violence. Poetry is how I answer back to the people in my life who shame or hurt me. Poetry is the space I make myself whole. Is this resistance?
Resistance implies I’m fighting them. I’m not fighting. I marking out what part of my humanity remains intact. I write the borders of my body. I remember who I am. I defy their erasure. I write knowing I will lose. Poetry doesn’t let you win but it teaches you how to surrender.
Within poetry is a fierce love of the world. We write beauty and sorrow. No one loves deeper than a poet. That love and the agency to be vulnerable and reflect love back to the world who doesn’t appreciate it is what resistance is to me. I guess I’m saying poetry is resistance as much as it is an embrace of every small thing.
That takes courage and faith. More importantly, it takes love. That’s a resistance, I guess. Maybe we all should have rifles and overthrow the cis het patriarchy with guns but nah, I’m just going to keep on loving myself and the people around me and fuck the world.
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Gwen Benaway is of Anishinaabe and Métis descent. Her first collection of poetry, Ceremonies for the Dead, was published in 2013 and her second collection of poetry, Passage, in Fall 2016. As emerging Two-Spirited Trans poet, she has been described as the spiritual love child of Tomson Highway and Anne Sexton. In 2015, she was the recipient of the inaugural Speaker's Award for a Young Author and in 2016 she received a Dayne Ogilvie Honour of Distinction for Emerging Queer Authors from the Writer's Trust of Canada. Her work has been published and anthologized internationally.
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Buy Passage or any of our other featured poetry month collections and get your own Poets Resist pack of a patch and buttons to wear to your next protest. And if you need some more resistance poetry inspiration, check out our poetry bot!