Poetry Grrrowl: Michelle Sylliboy + Kiskajeyi: I AM READY
April 2, 2019
Kiskajeyi: I AM READY (Rebel Mountain Press) — a debut work of poetry from L'nuk (Mi'kmaq) artist and author Michelle Sylliboy, the complex L'nuk language, Komqwejwi’kasikl, is preserved through word art and perfectly paired photographs. Below, Michelle shares her relationship with the language as one that provides a deep connection to ancestral space-time and to the L'nuk landscape which it embodies. Read on for the interview and the poem "In the Beginning" from her collection.
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Interview with the Poet
1.Tell us about your collection.
Mi’kmaq (L’nuk) consciousness is inscribed, I believe, as cultural DNA, in the Komqwejwi’kasikl writing system of my ancestors. This writing system is still preserved by the L’nuk, a First Nations people of the east coast of Canada. For over 13 thousand years, the L’nuk people maintained a complex language system. Komqwejwi’kasikl symbols dominated the landscape of the seven districts of the L’nuk Nation prior to colonization.
In the L’nuk language, there is no word for “goodbye,” in the same way there is no end to learning. Numultes is the by-product of this worldview. It represents an ongoing dialogue between two or more people. It also represents a meeting of the minds in the future, an exchange of stories that will continue either in person or in the spirit world. For me, Numultes expresses a better understanding of the collective consciousness that has motivated me to keep learning and to decolonize and reclaim my Indigenous voice.
From an existential viewpoint, writing a Komqwejwi’kasikl poem connects me to ancestral space–time through its embedding of my personal reflection in my ancestral language. When that happens, the ancestral spirit world descends into the vortex of my mind, rendering it a gathering place of Numultes. In my ancestral worldview, nothing happens without a dialogue, and Numultes is an active, dialogue-generating force shaping the way I interpret the L’nuk way of life and how it transforms my life today.
The photographs in this book are a recognition of land and how the Komqwejwi’kasikl language comes from the land. My ancestors used the hieroglyphics as maps and to record tribal records. The importance of saving our water and our lands in the time of resource extraction is critical as well.
In the words of an Elder from the Grand Council,“The Komqwejwi’kasikl language is Mi’kmaq culture.” This language is the L’nuk landscape, a continuous hermeneutic discourse for future generations to learn and unravel.
2. What is your process for beginning a poem? Has it changed since you began writing?
I write what is happening at the moment and as time goes by my writing evolves into energy allowing me to be taken over by the inspiration
3. What sparked your initial love of poetry?
Back in 1988 when I was a young student at University of Toronto I was introduced to creative writing and I instantly fell in love. I bought my first journal and I couldn’t stop words flowed and it was as though I was introduced to my creative spirit for the first time.
4. Who are some of your fave women poets?
The late Rita Joe, the late Connie Fife, Lee Maracle, Chrystos, and the late Maya Angelou
5. What do you find most informs and inspires your writing?
I’ve always felt truth telling is the visionary’s job. Artists are here to switch the mind off and on as though you were riding along the rails of a roller coaster floating in mid air. You think you are aware, but suddenly you realize you were just transported. If the words emanate they did their job for the reader at that moment.
6. : If you had one superpower, what would it be? Could you describe it in a haiku?
Michelle Sylliboy, a Mi’kmaq (L’nu) artist/author, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and raised on unceded territory in We’koqmaq Cape Breton. Arriving on the art scene in 1995, her Interdisciplinary art practice embodies some of her own life experiences which has led her to work with emerging and professional artists from all over Turtle Island. Michelle recently moved back to her territory after living and working on unceded Coast Salish territory for the past twenty-seven years. While in Vancouver, she learned to capture and intrigue the art community with her Interdisciplinary style of work. She gathers much of her inspiration from personal tales, the environment, and her L’nuk culture. PhD Candidate, Michelle is working on her Philosophy of Education Doctorate Degree fieldwork where she will combine her artistic background and education by creating a L’nuk Komqwejwi’kasikl (Hieroglyphic) curriculum with L’nuk teachers and Elders in Cape Breton.
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