Try Poetry: Through the Eyes of Asunder + Neal Shannacappo

Today for National Poetry Month, ALU got a chance to interview Nakawe Poet and Graphic Novelist, NShannacappo about when he started writing poetry, as well as what his featured poem “Warrior” from his collection Through the Eyes of Asunder (Kegedonce Press) means to him. 


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An Interview with Poet Neal Shannacappo

ALU: When was the moment that you decided you wanted to write poetry? Describe it for our readers. Was it reading another poem? Was it listening to a poet read? Was it something different entirely?

NShannacappo: I was in an adult high-school program and was forced to write several poems as part of the Grade 11 English course. Initially I refused as I thought there was no point to writing poems and thought all kinds of things about poetry, mainly that they were “unmanly.” I had a lot of messed up, Gen X points of views on what was “manly” back then, I was also in my early twenties and very embarrassingly cringe. Anyway, my teacher finally said that I wouldn’t graduate unless I wrote the required poems. So, I wrote a sonnet, and several other poems using all the old forms and generally hated the experience.

A few days later I got my grades back for them and was astonished that they were straight As, with notes on the poems. My teacher said I had real talent and he encouraged me to keep writing. He told me that I captured emotion in my words, and that as an artist I could continue to “paint with words” and that was pretty much it for me; I was hooked.

He was a very powerful teacher, tough, but always fair and never unkind in his dealings with any student and I respected his opinion a great deal. I went home and thought about it for what seemed like a few weeks, but in reality was probably a few days. Then one night I stopped drawing the Krillian Key Version Two and I started writing poetry. I gravitated to Free Verse, and after 10 pages of foolscap, front and back, I had “Unremitting Serenade.” Took me all night, about eight or nine hours of writing, but I have loved writing poetry from that point on.

As I wrote, I began to explore all my life’s trauma. All my pent-up emotions I poured into my poems and created stories where those feelings made sense, where the unknown reader could hopefully feel what I felt. I’ve always remembered the phrase, “paint with words” and so that’s what I try to do.

If you had to pitch your featured poem to someone who had never read poetry before, how would you do so? What kinds of things do you think the new-to-poetry reader might find fascinating about it? What could you share about the poem’s writing process?

NShannacappo: “Warrior” gives one version of the Indigenous ideal of what it means to be one and it’s not what you’ve been taught about in mainstream media, or rather it’s more than that.

I had been struggling with what honour meant in the world I lived in and how to go about living with that ideal in the forefront of my existence. I did most of that thinking quietly and unobtrusively and certainly not engaging anyone in conversation about it. I met a writing mentor and we became good friends, then she discovered in the course of that friendship that I’m a poet as well as a graphic novelist. She tells me she doesn’t know anything about graphic novels, but she does know poetry and so we start going over my poems. I think at that point I had nearly 800 poems. I would spend most nights that I wasn’t drawing writing several poems and it was during one of our many discussions that she asked me “What does a Warrior mean to me?” I’ve no idea how we got on that subject, but we did and I didn’t really have a coherent answer back then – and some days I still don’t.

There’s the version that we’re all taught about in school and the mainstream media, that a warrior is a fierce fighter, always gruff, and a no-nonsense kind of person with a talent for violence like no one else. Indigenous people are talking about more than that when we’re talking about a warrior, or warrior society. This poem captures my ideal and the questions I ask myself to remind myself to stay true to that path and that’s the other thing. It’s a path, it’s a road, and all Nish are on that Red Road. Anyway I digress and I do that sometimes.

New poets and readers of poetry, don’t be afraid to follow that rambling road the poetry wants to take you on.

ALU: What’s a poetry collection or individual poem that you’d recommend to anyone looking to get into poetry?

NShannacappo: My collection Through the Eyes of Asunder, as well as Rupi Kaur’s collection Milk and Honey, and The Kino-nda-niimi Collective’s The Winter We Danced.


From NShannacappo’ collection Through the Eyes of Asunder

I was asked in the in the quiet solitude of day
And I wondered long into the night

What does a Warrior make?

If by a Warrior you mean
One who always tries to do the right thing
Even when doing what is right tears my heart in two
One who does the right thing just because it is . . .

If by a Warrior you mean
Someone who always makes time to listen
Who brings you a smile when you least expect it
Who laughs with you everyday, today, just like yesterday
And cries a flood of tears so yours do not fall alone

If by a Warrior you mean
One who stands up for those in need
Who fights for those who
cannot, or will not
One who turns the other cheek in the face of rage, hatred and bigotry
Walks away when my blood screams out injustice!
And a fist is all it seems I have left to choose
Because walking away is the right choice . . .

If by a Warrior you mean
Someone who will always be there for you
Always tries to move Heaven and Hell to keep his promises to you
Someone whose soul withers and screams when you cannot
Supports you when you are wrong because that is when you need it the most

If by a Warrior you mean
A person of honour, of compassion, faith and humility
Someone of strength, trust, of love and respect
Someone of ethics and integrity and the will to live by them
The courage to fight for your dreams and to fight for their own
Someone who will always apologize and say I am so, so very sorry I hurt you

If by a Warrior you mean all of these things
Then all I can say to you is this, just this, only this . . .

I do not know if I am a Warrior

But I want to be . . .

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Nshannacappo is a Nakawe Graphic Novelist and Poet from Rolling River FN who lives in Ottawa with the full-time gigs as Stay-At-Home father and husband and part-time Social Service Worker. Through the Eyes of Asunder is his first collection of poetry, and The Krillian Key: Salamander Run vol 1 is his first graphic novel. He’s working on the second volume for both his poetry and The Krillian Key. You can find his work in the anthologies Sovereign Traces volumes 1 and 2, as well as A Howl: An Indigenous Anthology of Wolves, Werewolves, and Rougarou. He is the illustrator of the award-winning graphic novel If I Go Missing, authored by Brianna Jonnie.

* * *

Thanks to Nshannacappo for answering our questionnaire and sharing “Warrior” with us for Try Poetry (Why Not?).

Remember, if you purchase a copy of Through the Eyes of Asunder or any of the other featured Try Poetry collections, you’ll receive a free digital sampler containing all of our featured poems. (Purchase from All Lit Up or from your local independent bookseller; send proof of payment to if you purchase from your local!)