Books·How I Wrote It

Poet Gregory Scofield on telling untold stories and urgent truths

Gregory Scofield's poetry is informed by the experiences of two important women in his life: his mom and aunty.
Gregory Scofield won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 1994 for his debut collection, The Gathering: Stones for the Medicine Wheel. (Harbour Publishing)

The poems in Witness, I Am serve as testimony for Métis poet Gregory Scofield. Inspired by calls to reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, Scofield's urgent, emotional collection speaks to the injustices experienced by his mother, Dorothy Scofield, and aunty, Georgina Houle Young, who was murdered in 1998.

Scofield, who won the Latner's Writers' Trust Poetry Prize earlier this year, describes the highly personal process of creating his latest book.

Poetry as testimony

"I grew up with a single mom, and kind of went back and forth between my mom and my aunty. My mom was an incredible reader and thinker, and my aunty was an incredible storyteller. I grew up observing their lives and witnessing both the good and bad things that were happening to them. Many of these stories came to shape their lives and realities.

"For example, my aunty attended residential school in Northern Alberta. When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission came about and they were collecting survivors' testimonies, the testimonies of a lot of Métis people who had attended residential or boarding school were not collected. They were not made part of the process. For a number of years with poetry, I've really taken it upon myself to testify in a way on their behalf, to tell their stories, to be able to to be able to bring their voices into the world.

"I come to the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous woman from a very personal place. In 1998, I lost my aunty to very mysterious circumstances. She was murdered and her murderer was never brought to justice. Throughout the whole process, we were met with many of the same things that Indigenous people in this country face. We were met with racism. We were met with sexism. We were met with classism. So, since 1998, I've really been doing a lot of work around the advocacy of missing and murdered Indigenous women."

Poetry as healing

"My healing also comes from my poetry. I feel I have a responsibility as an individual who lost a family member to violence. I have a responsibility to women to talk about that experience and help people understand.

"The overriding feeling that I have during the writing process is really this need to tell; the need to to try to make sense out of something that is so chaotic in nature and is oftentimes so difficult to understand. I'm very much in state of trying to connect with the spirit of those stories."

Poetry as architecture

"Writing for me is like building a house. I approach my poetry books from a very architectural place. I often begin a collection of poetry with a title and the title really becomes the lodge. I'm able to go inside of that lodge and meet visitors there and begin that process of setting up the lodge.

"When I'm engaged in the process of constructing that lodge, I will write for days on end. The work becomes very intense. It becomes very focused. I will carry on, carry on, carry on with the work. When it's done, I find myself taking a long break from it and I won't do any writing at all."

Poetry as ceremony

"I've always written my books longhand. After I've finished writing the book, I will go to the computer, transcribe and do all of my editing that way. I need to write with pencils. I've got my lined writing pads. It's always been a very tactile experience for me. I see my writing very much as ceremony, and that's one of the things that connects me to that ceremony. The pen or pencil becomes the hammer and the nails of the lodge. The paper becomes the drywall. It becomes an actual creation."

Gregory Scofield's comments have been edited and condensed.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?