Gwen Benaway is an Anishinaabe-Métis writer, poet, critic, and essayist. She has published two collections of poetry, Ceremonies for the Dead and Passage, as well as a forthcoming collection titled Holy Wild. She received an Honour of Distinction from the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ writers in 2016 and won Prism International’s Creative Non-Fiction contest is 2017. Benaway’s work often interrogates queerness, transness, trauma, violence, Indigeneity, and desire. She is at the forefront of 2SQ (Two-Spirit, queer) writing in what we now refer to as Canada and powerfully renders her experience(s) as a trans Indigenous woman in all of her work.
I fell in love with poetry in high school. For me, it was the work of the World War poets, like Wilfrid Owen and Siegfried Sasson, which captured me first. Later on, I discovered Anne Sexton and her poem, "The Truth the Dead Know". Confessional poetry became my focus as well as works from Indigenous writers Marilyn Dumont and Gregory Scofield.
I started writing poetry when I won a remembrance day poetry contest that the local legion held. That was the first time I realized that I could write. From there on, I kept writing and eventually became a professional poet. I don't think that I've thought of myself as a poet. Even after four collections of poetry, I still consider myself as a begininer in poetry. To be a poet seems so far removed from what is considered possible for someone like me. There are very few trans women who are published poets and while there are more Indigenous poets, I still think of poetry as an art form outside of myself. In that sense, the impossiblity of being a poet because of who I am, I haven't worried much about being one. Rather than being a poet, I guess I've simply worked within poetics as a way of existing in the world.
I don't think a poet has a job. Perhaps there is a claim here to poetry as a form of interogration of society, poetry as witness, but I find that description hollow. For me, a poet is simply someone who is in love with language and within that loving, finds a joy in being with language and making the body of a poem. When we expect too much of poetry or assume that poetry does something, I think we forget to allow poetry to be pleasurable within itself. So the job of a poet is to not be a poet, in so much as being a poet gets in the way of poetry.
“Trillium” is about finding meaning in the smallest of spaces. I have a strong memory of seeing hundreds of trillium flowers blossom in the bush one spring and since then, I've always seen them a symbol of hope, renewal, and possiblity.
I couldn't choose one poem! I think poetry changes depending on what is going on in my life, so every time I come to a poem, it's a new encounter. I think poetry is what you need it to be. One poem might work for one moment in your life but you will outgrow it or find it's meanings have changed for you over time.