PORT HARDY—Poet Wanda John-Kehewin came to Cafe Guido in Port Hardy last week as part of the North Island College’s Write Here series.
Promoting and reading from her debut solo release In the Dog House, John-Kehewin delivered her stark, forthright and powerful verse to a receptive audience.
Written with unflinching honesty, the Cree wordsmith’s poems tackled issues including death, abuse, abandonment and addiction from the perspective of a First Nations woman.
“It’s how I process things,” she explained. “I don’t really know how I feel about something until I write it down.”
The process is clearly a cathartic one for the author. Despite the gravitas of the subject matter, there is a sense of healing from her work — that while past wrongs can never be undone, facing them head on empowers the author.
Among the works read was One Thousand Cranes, written for the victims of the 2011 earthquake in Japan and rich with symbolism referencing Japanese tradition.
John-Kehewin also read the eponymous poem, explaining that the title references her own childhood with a foster family who were, “not the nicest.”
The doghouse was the author’s place of refuge, and she recounted taking shelter from the literal and figurative storms brewing outside.
The work that stole the show, however, was a heart-wrenching missive from the author to her mother, full of love and regret.
In a reversal of roles, the poet looks down on her mother as a child and tells her how she would have given her the freedom and love she deserved but was denied through residential schooling and colonialism.
In answer to questions after the recital, the author explained that her mother had since passed but got to read the work shortly before she died. John-Kehewin explained that her poems, in large part, were an effort to give voice to the voiceless like her mother.
The event took a lighter tone when the author jokingly remarked that not all her poems were so sad and turned to the work A Splinter, proclaiming it to be a happier piece.
The work did indeed draw some laughs as the author closed out the first stanza with “…And I am standing on the edge again, shivering and afraid…” before admitting with a smile that it perhaps was not as joyous as she had thought.
The author clearly found a group of new fans in Port Hardy, as the attendees quizzed the poet on her background, inspirations and her work, before queuing for her signature and a few parting words.
The event was the final in the series of Write Here events scheduled for the North Island. In the Dog House is available through Talonbooks.