We asked author Gwen Benaway five questions about who inspires her and the themes she explores in her poetry. You can find her presenting Passage at IFOA Aurora on October 11th.
IFOA: What are some themes and subject matters that you like to explore in your poetry?
Gwen Benaway: I like to explore the intimate body as a site of struggle. Poetry is a medium to explore the legacy of the body, it’s history and memory as well as how it intersects with other bodies. Through my work and my body, I explore the legacy of abuse, sexual violence, trans girl love and sexuality, and Indigenous identity and sovereignty.
Benaway: My latest work, Holy Wild, is focused on exploring the first year of my transition. I examine trans identity, relationships, experiences of violence in intimate relationships, and trans phobia as well as the intersections of racism towards Indigenous bodies and trans bodies.
IFOA: What makes a good poem? What makes a great poem?
Benaway: A good poem is honest, hits you like a silent hurricane, and challenges your sense of the world. A great poem is honest, slips into your veins like a soft poison, and haunts you for weeks.
IFOA: Describe a person who inspires you. Why?
Benaway: I’m really inspired by a husky who lives in my condo building. She is a playful, fiercely independent, and graceful dog always trying to slip her owner and run wild. I feel a close bond to her, but she always tries to lick my hand even though her owner tries to stay away from me (he’s transphobic). I guess I focus on her over people in my life, because she seems to have it all figured out.
IFOA: What’s your favourite word? Why?
Benaway: My favourite word? Piitapan. It means the dawn in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) but also has the root sounds of past, present, and future in it, implying that all of time is happening in a single moment.
Gwen Benaway is of Anishinaabe and Métis descent. She has published two collections of poetry, Ceremonies for the Dead and Passage, and her third collection, What I Want is Not What I Hope For, is forthcoming in 2018. A Two-Spirited Trans poet, she has been described as the spiritual love child of Tomson Highway and Anne Sexton. In 2015, she was the recipient of the inaugural Speaker’s Award for a Young Author and in 2016 she received a Dayne Ogilvie Honour of Distinction for Emerging Queer Authors from the Writers’ Trust of Canada.