In celebration of the release of Measures of Astonishment: Poets on Poetry, Jeanelle Mandes from the University of Regina Press sat down with Gregory Scofield, Anne Simpson, Marilyn Bowering and Glen Sorestad, who are four of the 13 contributors from Measures of Astonishment: Poets on Poetry. They talked about the poets’ aspirations, how long they’ve been writing poetry, how they deal with writer’s block, and their upcoming new work.
Our first poet is Gregory Scofield. He is one of Canada’s leading Indigenous writers whose seven collections of poetry have earned him both a national and international audience. He is Assistant Professor of English at Laurentian University, where he teaches Creative Writing. Read to find out how his late aunty inspired him to write this lecture in the Measures of Astonishment book.
How long have you been writing poetry?
I have been writing poetry for probably about 30 years and I have been publishing for about 26 years.
What inspires you to write poetry?
What inspires me the most to write poetry are the things I observe around me, the things that seem to touch me, move me, the things that make me angry it’s an emotional response within me. I’ve always approached poetry as a form of healing and it’s like a form of therapy in a way.
Are there any young poets who inspire you today? If so, who and why?
We’re very fortunate to have people like Elizabeth Bachinsky; we’ve got people like Billeh Nickerson. Their work is very contemporary and very political. I think it continues on in the vein of poets before then.
Are there any publications that you’re currently working on?
I actually have a new collection forthcoming in October with Harbour Publishing, I believe it’s my eighth collection of poetry. It’s called Witness, I Am.
What is this new collection of poetry about?
The book is divided into three sections. The first section is called “Dangerous Sound.” It’s a lot of contemporary sound poems, so poems that are really meant to be spoken. The second part of the book is called “Muskrat Woman” and it is a big, long, epic poem that takes a look at the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The third part of the book is called “Ghost Dance.” Those poems are from a more autobiographical place.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
Well I actually do a lot of beadwork. I was fortunate enough to grow up with an aunty who was not only a fluent Cree speaker, but also an amazing seamstress and an amazing bead worker. So, of course, growing up and watching her bead and sew became part of storytelling for me because as she was sewing, she would tell stories. For me, I always link those two together and so it seems when I have writer’s block, and I’m not being creative through poetry or through writing, then I often find myself doing beadwork or making a pair of moccasins, or working on a vest or doing some kind of beading project.
In your chapter in Measures of Astonishment, you made references to this aunty of yours. Can you explain the significance of your lecture?
The entire lecture was based on my aunty and was on missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. My aunty was one of those women. There was a lot of suspicion around her death, and I believe she passed away in 1996. She was a very important, pivotal person in my life. I’ve done work probably for at least the last eight years around missing and murdered Indigenous women. I do a lot of advocacy around that particular issue; I actually have a Twitter account that is specifically set up for those purposes on the Twitter account, @GregoryScofield. The project is called Name A Day I tweet the name and photograph of one of our missing or murdered Indigenous women, and I try to do that daily. That not only serves to create awareness, but it also serves as a public forum for our young women who have gone missing. It’s putting it out there so hopefully people can locate them. The work that I have done around missing and murdered Indigenous women has been for a number of years now and so the essay written for the Anne Szumigalski lectures is reflective of that.