The Next Chapter·Q&A

Megan Gail Coles's Satched is a poetic look at the trauma, grief and joy of life on the East Coast

The playwright and author of novel Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club talks to Shelagh Rogers about her poetry debut.

'I wanted Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to feel like the book was for them first.'

Megan Gail Coles is a Canadian writer from Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC )

Megan Gail Coles is an author and playwright originally from Savage Cove, N.L. and currently living in Montreal, where she is a PhD candidate at Concordia University. She is also the author of the short story collection Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome and the novel Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club, which was a finalist for the 2019 Scotiabank Giller Prize and was defended by YouTuber Alayna Fender on Canada Reads 2020.

Her latest work, Satched, is a debut book of poetry with a unique title. Named after a local word meaning "soaked through" or "weighed down," Satched is a poetry collection that explores intergenerational trauma, ecological grief and late-stage capitalism from the perspective of a woman of rural-remote, Northern, working class and mixed ancestry. 

Satched looks inward, reflecting on toxic relationships, anxiety and aging. Coles writes passionately about the land and the people of the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland and Labrador, where she grew up.

Coles spoke with Shelagh Rogers about how she wrote Satched.

Tell us about Satched, and why you chose it as the title. 

One of poetry's real strengths is that you have a precision of language. The diction choice is one of its calling cards. I wanted the title to reflect that. I want the word choice specifically to be something that felt very familiar to me, very of Newfoundland and Labrador and something that spoke to us intimately, without excluding other readers. 

Specifically, I wanted Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to feel like the book was for them first — that it was my reflection on what I have gained from my home province and how they have contributed to my career. 

One of poetry's real strengths is that you have a precision of language.

So that was one of the reasons I went with the title. Also, it's fun to say! It has a lot of interesting vocal qualities. I like words that feel full in the mouth, and so it kind of has a lot of those characteristics. 

LISTEN | Megan Gail Coles on Here and Now:

Megan Gail Coles newest work is a book of poetry called "Satched." Megan Gail Coles was Gill Deacon's guest on Here and Now's Tuesday Afternoon Book Club. 7:20

Can you talk about your oral storytelling heritage? 

My work innately has a lot of voice. I am a trained playwright. So all of these things, along with my oral storytelling heritage, is infused in every poem. They are very alive; they are very performance based. It feels like the words want to sometimes stand up on their own legs.

It's very common throughout Newfoundland and Labrador that a lot of our family traditions revolved around storytelling in a very intimate setting. We also didn't have a lot of books in the home. Like a lot of us grew up in rural remote areas of the province that had a tradition of illiteracy for many, many generations. So reading and access to literature in the print form was not something that was common.

It's very common throughout Newfoundland and Labrador that a lot of our family traditions revolved around storytelling in a very intimate setting.

Our stories were told to us by our mothers and grandmothers and our fathers and grandfathers, our kin. Then it becomes such a part of your family arrangement. It is almost a competition of sorts and you get really creative use of language. The vocabulary has a lot of strength and flexibility when you're trying to outdo your cousin in the circle. 

WATCH | Megan Gail Coles during Canada Reads 2020:

Alayna Fender and Megan Gail Coles discuss Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club

2 years ago
Duration 5:24
YouTuber Alayna Fender will defend Megan Gail Coles's debut novel Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club on Canada Reads 2020. 5:24

You're tough on yourself in some of these poems. You are looking back on your younger self — and some emotional struggles and bad choices. Why did you want to go there? 

I often ask my readers to be prepared for honesty and accountability. I believe that to be less than straightforward, to be less than sincere, is to deny yourself an opportunity to grow. It also denies those around you an opportunity to meet you for who you are genuinely. And that's sad that so many people are moving through their lives, hiding their true nature because they are feeling guilt or shame about who they were when they were trying to become who they are now. 

I really believe that to be less than straightforward, to be less than sincere, is to deny yourself an opportunity to grow.

That's unfortunate, and that also uses a lot of precious energy and space in our lives. So if I'm going to demand that the reader try to be their most authentic self, then it feels necessary for me to also be that open and vulnerable and hold myself accountable for the mistakes that I made, while also accepting that I didn't know what I was doing and no one does. 

The poem, How I got to this place, is a sort of family history. You talk about your ancestors and say they are "a collection of living skeletons, forever grasping at you from the dirt." What is it that haunts you about their stories?

I am somewhat of mixed heritage, who has both First Nations and settler relations in my ancestry. There are a lot of things that you have to reconcile when you're thinking about how you got to this place, how you became who you were in this time.

While some of our ancestors' decisions are grueling, or less than appealing to us now in 2021, we need to get OK with it.

It's an attempt to try to reach back and understand what their struggles were — and why they made the decisions that they made. While some of our ancestors' decisions are grueling, or less than appealing to us now in 2021, we need to get OK with it. 

If not, at least try to repair our relations with our other family members and community members to at least kind of hold on to the past in a way that allows us to move through it and onward. 

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

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