How I Wrote It

How Lesley Belleau celebrates the Ojibwe language with her latest poetry collection

The Anishnaabekwe writer talks about the creative process behind her poetry collection Indianland.

Lesley Belleau is an Anishinaabekwe writer and poet based in Garden River First Nation (Ojibwe) near Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. She is on the list as one of CBC Books' 108 Indigenous writers to read. Belleau's latest poetry collection, Indianlandexplores Anishinaabemowin, the language of the Anishinaabe nation with a rich and historical tradition.

In her own words, Belleau tells CBC Books about how she wrote Indianland.

Poetry is personal

"I've been working on my PhD for about five years, so I write sporadically when I have time. Poetry is something that I always write when I need a break from my own busy and hectic life. Poetry is a very personal type of writing for me. Writing poetry is like meditation and is a stress reliever. 

"I'm so used to writing fiction, but I've always wanted to write a book of poetry and get away from fiction for a while. I like to try different modes and genres to push the possibilities of what exists in each genre. I love them all."

Free-flowing thoughts

"There are a lot of different types of poetry, and there are different issues and images: sexuality, Indigenous women, missing and murdered women, government politics, the Oka crisis, residential schools, affirmative love between two people. I didn't lock these issues into groups. It's like real life. We have a myriad of issues in our daily life, and we are just jumping from just one thing to the next. We still have to survive. We have to focus on ourselves as women, mothers, lovers.

"This book can almost be seen like a river, where you can stream through time. I relied on the images of water. Nibi is the Objiwe word for water. I wanted it to remain that way, without having to categorize it a lot. It's circular and free flowing."

Culture in context

"I come from an Indigenous female perspective, but I'm writing for everybody. Anyone who can find the beauty within our culture will find the poems useful. I chose a series of poems that I thought that would thematically fit well together, around issues I feel are relevant to those of Indigenous cultures. Some of these poems were written 10 years ago, but the issues are still alive and ongoing today.

"When I write, I think a lot about image and about ancestral culture. The Ojibwe language is a language that is an image in itself. One word could be an entire story. I looked at things that way to add some additional layers and elements within it."

Lesley Belleau's comments have been edited and condensed.

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