Poetry in Motion: Kelsey Borgford & Cole Forrest + Once the Smudge is Lit

In their new co-written poetry collection Once the Smudge is Lit (Kegedonce Press), Nipissing First Nation poets Kelsey Borgford and Cole Forrest carry the reader into deeply spiritual elements of Nishnaabe culture, highlighting Indigenous experience in post-colonial times. The poems in this collection range thematically, from friendship and love to ceremony and community, and are accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Indigenous artist Tessa Pizzale.

Below, Kelsey and Cole read from the book.

Once the Smudge is Lit by Kelsey Borgford and Cole Forrest


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Poetry in Motion

The poems of Once the Smudge is Lit open multiple windows into the experience of being Nishaabe in the modern world. The theme of sacredness and ceremony threads its way through these verses much like the waft of smudge smoke rendered in Tessa Pizzale’s beautifully evocative illustrations, which carry the reader from page to page.

The stars and the Thunderbirds, pow wows and other ceremonies, the lodge and the tipi, moccasins and smudge smoke—all become signifiers for community, closeness, friendship and love. These touchpoints ground the collection fully in Nishnaabe experience and spirituality. There are also hints at traditional Nishinaabe legend, too, if you know where to look:

“i swim to the bottom of the ocean
to try and recreate the world”

The collection’s beautiful, sweetly flowing language does not shy away from dark themes or hard truths. There are poems entitled “Rape Culture,” “Things I don’t Talk About,” and “Pretendians.” But colonial pain—profoundly and concisely expressed in Borgford’s “i am tired of hurting”—is always balanced with hope and pride, with love of community, family, lover—and self.

Forrest’s language is more direct and down-to-earth than Borgford’s often soaring allegories. In Forrest’s verses we have references to contemporary music, to McDonalds and video games, to the “chronically online n8tve” whose urban childhood is still connected to and grounded in the culture of their ancestors. Once the Smudge is Lit speaks with a voice that needs to be heard in our all-too-colonial landscape, the voice of contemporary Nishnaabek.

Kelsey Borgford reads from Once the Smudge is Lit

Cole Forrest reads from Once the Smudge is Lit

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Kelsey Borgford is a Nbisiing Nishnaabekwe from the Marten clan. She is an emerging author, passionate about
utilizing writing as a tool to revitalize cultural connections. Kelsey’s work aims to pass along cultural traditions and identity and is predominantly centred in the practice of beading and writing. She has a children’s book, What’s in a Bead, from Second Story Press (2023). Once the Smudge is Lit, with Cole Forrest, is her first published poetry collection. In all aspects of her creativity, Kelsey draws inspiration from her culture, her mother, her community, and relatives in the natural world.

Cole Forrest is an Ojibwe filmmaker and programmer from Nipissing First Nation. They have written and directed independent short films that have been screened at film festivals including imagineNATIVE, TQFF, and the Vancouver International Film Festival. Cole is a recipient of the Ken and Ann Watts Memorial Scholarship and of the James Bartleman Indigenous Youth Creative Writing Award. They were the 2019 recipient of the imagineNATIVE + LIFT Film Mentorship and a 2020 Artist in Residence as a part of the Sundance Native Filmmakers Lab. They are a graduate of the Video Design and Production program at George Brown College and are currently writing their first feature film. Once the Smudge is Lit, with Kelsey Borgford, is their first published poetry collection. They are grateful to represent their community in all artistic pursuits.

Illustrator Tessa Pizzale is a Moose Cree Indigenous Artist located in North Bay, Ontario. She is currently working on her Bachelors of Fine Arts at Nipissing University. Tessa creates both digital and physical artworks. She also creates leather regalia belts.