Poetry Cure: creole métisse of french canada, me by Sharron Proulx-Turner

After a near-20 year writing and editing relationship and friendship, Sharron Proulx-Turner’s editor Aruna Srivastava fields questions about her late friend’s final collection, the hybrid of storytelling and poetry creole métisse of french canada, me (Kegedonce Press). We chat with Aruna and read “The longhouse” from this beautiful book.


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An Interview with the Editor, Aruna Srivastava

All Lit Up: Tell us a bit about creole métisse of french canada, me.Aruna Srivastava: This is the last of Sharron’s books: she died in November 2016, but was determined to finish this manuscript, and completed it that September. Almost all of her other books have been billed as poetry, although they are hard to categorize: Sharron is first and foremost a storyteller. Aside from her first book, which was a form of memoir, creole métisse is the first of her books that Sharron herself thought of as prose, or poetic prose. Like many of her previous books, this one explores two-spiritedness and Métis history and questions of identity, and is focussed as well on family history. The metaphor and reality of house(s) and home(s) are the through-line of the book, in which she interweaves stories of her Métis family ancestry with autobiography and, always, her trademark sharp critique.ALU: What was the first of Sharron’s work you edited? How did you come upon it? What resonated with you? AS: Sharron’s first work came upon me, in fact, in the early 90s. Her memoir was originally her MA thesis, which I co-supervised. She tells the story of this somewhat unpleasant academic journey in creole métisse. Press Gang later published a version of that work (Where The Rivers Join) under the pseudonym “beckylane”. Since then, I have been a reader of Sharron’s work, a fan and her friend. This final book was only the second I was involved in editing, and that was a collaborative effort: I believe Sharron would credit Susan Briscoe for the shape of the book — she praised Susan frequently for her editorial skills and perception. Weyman Chan and I were involved in editing in the final stages, charged by Sharron for ensuring that we assisted those at Kegedonce in getting the manuscript ready. But many others in Sharron’s family and community also “made” this book — perhaps more than her other books. Readers of this and her other work will know that her writing is deeply informed by family and community. ALU: What did you like about working with Sharron? AS: Her passion for writing, which I found and still find a bit mysterious. She was also herself an amazing editor — her most recent project being Beverly Little Thunder’s memoir One Bead At A Time — and was a great editor of and believer in my writing. She had a quiet way about her, and a strength that I think comes across in her writing (it feels to me like a form of listening-writing), and a wicked humour as well. We collaborated often, and these times were amazing, productive for both of us, and simply fun. Working on her book brings her back to presence, along with some of the valuable lessons, particularly of patience, I have still to learn from her.

The Poem

The longhousethere are people who will try to hurt you because of the good they see in you, needing that good for themselves. they’ll try to beat it out of you. when you come to know that, don’t become like those people.–evelyn t.r. boyce
I dream of a large room, where the wind blowing indoors
doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. though the room is full of
people, I feel alone, lonely for a friend. my childhood home was
like that, like I didn’t belong, with my mom stretching out a
silence I wasn’t meant to break. the silence concerned me, mom
teaching the older ones, the younger ones the dangers of me. my
biggest flaw was I was too nice, too kind. not natural, my mom
would say. born evil, that one. watch your back.
in dreamworld there are mirrors up above in the large room. I
can see myself and each strand of my hair contains volumes of
knowledge forming along the waves. the wind picks up words,
like dust from my hands, my skin, my hair—swirling them into a
tiny twister whose point reaches into my left eye. and rather than
close my eyes, I hold them open to the harshness of those words,
the blinding sting that opens a doorway to the past.
I’m reminded of a story I heard some years ago, where trickster
loses her eyes after juggling them for too long—even though
she’s warned this will happen——and her eyes don’t return. she
starts to go around with flowers in her empty sockets, telling the
people she encounters how special her eyes are and how she can
see things no one else can see. person after person offers to trade
one eye for one of hers, until, one day, a girl offers to trade both
her eyes for these special eyes that can see things no one else can
see. when the trade is made, the girl is left without sight.
but the girl knows that darkness holds stories and songs of
great power, and when she recounts them in her mind, they shift
her thoughts away from herself to the voices of the women who
came before her.
she dreams about her grandmother. in the dream, she’s a teen
and there are other kids, lots of them, maybe sisters and brothers
and cousins. her grandmother has them all helping to clear out a
canoe, a very, very long canoe that’s large enough for an
extended family. the canoe is made from bark, not from wood.
because she’s the oldest, her grandmother asks her to go out
the canoe and retrieve a medicine from the bottom of the water.
the water is dark and murky. it takes several dives before the
girl is able to pull up the medicine for her grandmother. she
knows this is a powerful healing medicine. when she reaches the
surface after her final dive and opens her eyes, she’s in a circle of women.
she goes around the circle shaking the women’s hands,
introducing herself. she reaches her mother, surprised she’s
there. when they shake hands, they laugh and shake hands
again. her mother’s hand feels like her own hand, like she’s
shaking her own hand. her mother’s talking and the girl leans
down to hear what her mother is saying, her left ear to her
mother’s mouth. her mother makes a joke in her ear. the girl tells
a joke back. wakes herself up laughing.
–From creole métisse of french canada, me by Sharron Proulx-Turner (Kegedonce Press, 2017)
Sharron Proulx-Turner was a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta. Originally from the Ottawa river valley, Sharron was from Algonquin, Ojibwe, Mohawk, Wyandat, Mi’kmaw, French and Irish ancestry. She was a two-spirit nokomis, mom, writer and community worker. Where the Rivers Join (1995), a memoir (Beckylane), was a finalist for the Edna Staebler Award for creative non-fiction, and what the auntys say (2002), was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Prize for poetry. Sharron’s work appears in several anthologies, including Oxford Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English, Crisp Blue Edges, Tales from Moccasin Avenue, Double Lives: Writing and Motherhood, and in literary journals, including Gatherings, Yellow Medicine Review and West Coast Line. Sharron’s other recent books are a mixed-genre-historical-fiction called, she walks for days/ inside a thousand eyes/ a two-spirit story (2008), a book of dedication poems called she is reading her blanket with her hands (2008), and a book of poems called the trees are still bending south (2012). She transcribed the recorded lifestory of Lakota Elder Beverly Little Thunder (One Bead at a Time, Inanna Publications), who, together with her daughter Lushanya Echeverria, leads the only all-women’s Sundance on Turtle Island. Sharron passed away in November 2016.
During the month of April, you can buy creole métisse of french canada, me as well as any of our featured Poetry Cure books for 15% off (+ get a free notebook to jot down your moments of reflection).Keep up with us all month on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook with the hashtag #ALUpoetrycure.