Poetry Cure: Ritual Lights by Joelle Barron

April 20, 2018

Today's poetry cure speaks to trauma, sexual assault, and healing with Joelle Barron's Ritual Lights (Goose Lane Editions), a collection full of vulnerability, humour, and rage. As Joelle tells us below, "It’s a story of many losses that lead to the ultimate triumph of queer love and the formation of a beautiful family."

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An Interview with Joelle


All Lit Up: Tell us about your collection.

Joelle Barron: I didn’t have any kind of larger, cohesive idea of what I was doing when I started writing the poems in my collection, Ritual Lights. I just felt like I needed healing, and writing is always where I’ve gone to heal myself. It became clear pretty quickly that the book was about sexual assault, its pervasiveness across generations, and how it affected my ability to see myself clearly as a human being. It’s a story of many losses that lead to the ultimate triumph of queer love and the formation of a beautiful family.


ALU: Do you read poetry as a self-care technique? What books in particular have helped you?

JB: I absolutely read poetry as self-care! I’m currently re-reading Suzanne Buffam’s A Pillow Book for some dark humour and beauty to get me through the long winter. Notes on Arrival and Departure by Rachel Rose, and For Your Own Good by Leah Horlick, are two collections I return to often for comfort. I read Mary Oliver to my daughter over breakfast. I could go on forever!


ALU: If you wrote a memoir, what would it be called?

JB: Pigeon-toed & Anxious with credit to my friend, Erin Stainsby, who came up with this title years ago. It still seems very apt.


ALU: What, outside of other books/writers, inspires your writing?

JB: The LGBT2S+ youth I’m lucky enough to work with inspire me constantly. They are honestly so smart, resilient, and kind. I want to be great for them.







The Poem


Five Spells
            after Amber Dawn

1. Forget

Light two candles, one green and one gold. Sea salt
in a bowl, two drops of wintergreen. Incant:
Peace. Still, his body’s rough
memory, how his chin dug into your throat, beard
scratches on your inner thighs.


2. Feel the Sun Move from Scorpio to Sagittarius

Begin winter in a new home. Watch your love inject
their gender into thick muscle. Murmur to the ladybug
alighting on your south-facing window, warming her wings
in the now-gentle sun. Soak your bed with queer sex
that makes your body feel like a fuck you drum. When the ladybug
dies, bury her carcass in the potted palm.


3. Incant Consent over Your Daughter’s Body

Ask before every touch. May I kiss you? May I wash
you? Make no holy. Untangle the forced compliance
of your own childhood, where you learned your place
as a sacrifice. Make tea with stinging nettle,
raspberry leaf. Your ancestry is thick with witches,
stirring turmeric into milk. May I kiss you? May I hold you
like this? Hand her no like a blade.


4. Set a Curse

Under the darkest moon, anoint a black candle
with his name. Seal it with an X. When the wax
has burned into a pool, toss it over your shoulder,
never look at it again. You hold the gallows
where they hung your foremothers, your body
an ancestral rope.


5. Give Thanks for the Drink

Take your mother’s foul tinctures, brewed with herbs
dug from her own earth with her own hands, ancient
medicine. Drink for the women who say, I see you,
who say, You deserve more. The ones
who taught you enough.


–From Ritual Lights by Joelle Barron (Goose Lane Editions, 2018)






9781773100180_BARRONJoelle_by Josh Loeser

Joelle Barron is a writer and doula who lives on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe of Treaty 3 in Kenora, Ontario. Joelle's poems have appeared in ARC Poetry Magazine, SAD Magazine, the Fiddlehead, the Malahat Review, the New Quarterly, and other journals. "A Girl Like This Might Have Loved Glenn Gould" won the Malahat Review's Open Season Award. Joelle is a graduate of the MFA program of the University of British Columbia and now works as a coordinator for both Kenora Pride and SPACE, an LGBT2S youth group.

Photo credit Josh Loeser





During the month of April, you can buy Ritual Lights as well as  any of our featured Poetry Cure books for 15% off (+ get a free notebook to jot down your moments of reflection).

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