What do you have to say to those who would suggest your writing is too “intense” or “upsetting?”
I say that they aren’t me and can’t understand my passion for healing, social, and racial justice. It is a cleansing fire inside me that propels my work, poetry, and writing. This is who I am and my goal is to cause discomfort in the majority culture as an Ojibway/Métis Two-Spirited person. They have made my ancestors and us suffer under their violence of colonization. So I will make them uncomfortable by pointing out this great injustice that gets little attention.
Do you think literature can influence social change, or reflect it? Or both? Are there any past or contemporary social movements that have affected your poetry? Can poetry be activism?
I believe literature can influence social change by means of bringing an understanding or perception that isn’t out there into the world. I don’t follow mainstream or even alternative social movements, and I also don’t follow but I lead. I am working on bringing new work into the world that has never been done before. I’ve observed the same tactics fail social movements. As a Native person one of the greatest social movements we participate in daily is survival as resistance in continued colonization and a racist culture. So our words, thoughts, actions, healing, learning, reading, writing, empowering, educating, studying, recovering, and breathing are all a part of a larger movement for the recovery of our people. Therefore, poetry is activism or what I prefer calling it–community work. I also don’t like the word activism because in that word you see act which can equate to actor. Many people like to act temporarily to see a result when community work is a lifelong commitment to change within the community that doesn’t really exist in the world. In a sense a community challenges the brokenness that exists.
What advice do you have for young and emerging writers, particularly of marginalized identities? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I believe that Aboriginal/First Nations/Indigenous/Native American writers are the most marginalized hands down. So even though we were the former majority, we have very little space on the bookshelf in a book store. I’ve seen this, and in comparison to other groups, we aren’t even considered. I don’t label us as POC because we aren’t and haven’t been included in “movements” because our existence challenges the violent occupation of settler-colonialism. We have hundreds of sovereign nations already existing inside a colonial boundary that defines itself as a country. Personally, I’ve had people tell me you are a POC then I get labeled as the “other” or the latter, which I won’t say. My writing challenges identity and the colonial construction of indigeneity.
Young and emerging writers who are Aboriginal/First Nations/Indigenous/Native American need to write for the ancestors and the ones to come. They need to write the stories and share the words that have yet to be heard. When we decolonize we can eventually center us on our land. Then our voices will be heard and our families and communities will be more whole. Please write and write for those who feel like they don’t have a voice to talk about generational trauma, pain, sorrow, disenfranchised grief, current oppressions and injustice.
The best advice I received was from my Mom as a kid. She said, “write no matter what, where it is dark or light.” So it began! Miigwech ~ Thanks Mom!
Does gender or gender performance affect your writing?
Yes, I identify as Two-Spirit based in my Ojibway culture and it affects my writing. I have a series of poems “The Androgynous Man in Brown Pants,” which is about my process of healing and being comfortable in my body, mind, and spirit. I was born into a female body but I don’t identify as female, nor do I use a majority culture term such as “transgender.” I am androgynous, gender non-conforming, and Two-Spirit. How I see the world as a Two-Spirit comes through in my writing and poetry.
Do you have any cool selfies or pictures of your pets? Can I see them?
Yes! Her name is Mishi Bizhiw (Mee-she Bee-shu) = Great Lynx, Curly Tail, Underwater Panther. Mishi Bizhiw is a part of our Ojibwe culture.
CECELIA ROSE LAPOINTE is Ojibway/Métis who is a part of Kchiwiikwedong (Keweenaw Bay Indian Community) and is ajijaak (crane) clan. They identify as androgynous, gender non-conforming, and Two-Spirit. They are the Owner of Red Circle Consulting and Waub Ajiaak Press. They are also an author, poet, and writer published anthologies, booklets, chapbooks, dissertations, journals, magazines, and online Indigenous-Native publications. anishinaabekwe.com
This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry Volume 2. As Bettering’s editors wrote in their call for nominations, “Our efforts will intentionally shift favor so that the literary landscape within this anthology reflects a ranging plurality of voices in American poetry and illuminates the possibilities of sharing space … This anthology represents just one concerted effort to better American poetry, but it is one that we hope will resonate.”
Bettering has sought to delve deeper with the poets selected for these anthologies. These questions are composed collectively by the editors, with the belief that the literary community needs a polyphony not only of poems but of poets’ voices.