How Rosanna Deerchild found her voice
Award-winning author and poet, Rosanna Deerchild is the host of Unreserved on CBC Radio One. She has been a broadcaster for more than 20 years and her most recent poetry collection calling down the sky was a finalist for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award.
Below, the 2017 CBC Poetry Prize juror, answers eight questions submitted by eight of her fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
1. Lorna Crozier asks, "A question I've never been asked, and fear being asked: What makes you dare to be a writer, to think you have something to say to me?"
For a long time, I didn't dare to be a writer. My voice was silent, my stories unwritten. I believed I had no stories that anyone wanted to hear or read. But like truth, stories rise until they overflow and like truth they set you free. Now, not only do I dare call myself a writer, I kick down doors and make space for Indigenous story and voice. I make no apologies.
2. Ian Brown asks, "What was the lowest point in the writing of your latest project? And the highest?"
My latest book is titled calling down the sky and is about my mother's residential school experience. It was a collaborative effort where she would tell me what happened to her and I would then write them into poetry. The lowest point for me was listening to the stories of abuse and neglect she survived as a child. Heartbreaking story after story. Knowing she went through them alone and being a mother myself would send me into tears every time. The highest point was knowing she was not alone anymore and that this story would be told and shared with the world. Giving my mother a voice was one of the most important things I have ever done.
3. Pasha Malla asks, "Who is one writer, living or dead, who you wish could edit or critique your drafts?"
E. Pauline Johnson, the Mohawk poet and performer, was ahead of her time during the 19th century. She travelled the world reciting her work, shrugging off the conventional norms and expectations of the women of her day. While her contemporaries (Duncan Campbell Scott among them) were killing Indigenous people in their work (the dying red man trope) she was celebrating our lives, resistance and resilience in her poems.
4. Johanna Skibsrud asks, "What non-literary inspirations inform your work?"
The stories and (untold) history of Indigenous peoples of this land currently called Canada. Whether they are negative or positive, we are part of this land and our stories are written into the rocks and waters here.
5. Gary Barwin asks, "How or where does a piece of writing begin for you?"
Sometimes as a piece of conversation overheard at a bus stop. Other times a shared secret among sisters or friends or a bubbled up memory from childhood. Pieces of story float around in the most unexpected places and our job as the storyteller is to catch them and place them on the page before setting them free into the world again.
6. Tracey Lindberg asks, "What questions would show up on your FAQ (frequently annoying questions) list?"
Do you prefer Aboriginal or Indigenous? (Neither. I prefer my name)
What is it like living on the reserve and moving to the city? (I don't know. I didn't grow up on the rez.)
What can we do to foster reconciliation? (I don't know. That's not my job. It's the job of non-Indigenous Canada)
7. Saleema Nawaz asks, "What do you do when the writing is going badly... or not going at all?"
I stop. I stop writing and listen. To other stories, other sounds, to music. I take long walks and read long books and take long baths. Sometime stories are shy and you have to wait for them to speak to you again.
8. Lawrence Hill asks, "What do you do to steady your mind (if your mind is capable of being steadied), so that you can shut out the world and write?"
For me, writing poetry is ceremony. It is both revealing and healing. When I write it is important that there are no distractions. There must be silence so I can hear the whispered prayers. There must be a space that is only for writing. There must be time so that the story can tell itself to me.