The Guest Poetry Blog Series # 4 – Canadian Poet Juleta Severson-Baker Features Dene/Métis Poet, Photographer and Writer, Tenille K. Campbell – Part Two of Two

Dene/Metis poet, photographer and writer, Tenille K. Campbell. Photo Credit: Flare


the snow fell
light white flakes
melting on contact
fading away
like old stories
after dawn

the country twang
of heartache and loss
white noise
as I listened
to your heartbeat
echoing my own

my hand in yours
we swayed back and forth
under street light

I need a woman like you, you said
I’ll eat you alive, I said

Tenille Campbell from #IndianLovePoems, Signature Editions, 2017

Tenille K. Campbell is a Dene/Métis writer and photographer from English River First Nation, Saskatchewan. I stumbled across her book #IndianLovePoems in the remarkably good poetry section of Mobius Books in Port Alberni, B.C.while on a holiday in April, 2022. I read a few poems right there in the store and, by the way my heart started racing, I knew I needed Tenille’s words in my life. She writes with an exposed sexuality, a great delight in delight, toothy humour, power and punch. I devoured the book.

The final line of the epigraph poem for this post, #807, I’ll eat you alive, is the kind of self-aware and hungry female voice Tenille offers her readers all through the book. It feels exciting even if it is, strangely and sadly, surprising to read such a clear and potent claim in a world where women are still enmeshed in painful chains of inequity. Tenille is a poet who stands very clearly in her personal and political power. She finds much of that power in delight and in her own body.

As a non-indigenous person, being of English/colonizer heritage, I am grateful for the chance to glimpse Tenille’s world. She writes erotic poems that are situated in indigenous cultural settings and sprinkled with culturally specific imagery. She writes about love affairs with a cast of different indigenous men; her “Cree lover”, her “Dene lover”, her ” métis men”. As a reader, I felt honoured to witness intimate moments such as with her “Saulteaux lover”; his long braid flashing in the sun/as he fancy danced into my heart/and into my bed.

Tenille’s poetics are charged with rightfully reclaimed power. In #47, she blasts open the hideously damaging Doctrine of Discovery by flipping the script. The speaker of the poem describes a white lover as a “first discovery” and the lover’s body as a territory the speaker “claim(s)“. The final stanza describes leaving a hickey on the white man’s neck as a “signing treaty” and that the speaker would remember the act as “con-/sensual“.

Consensual; a word we think of meaning with consent, but Tenille, by breaking the line break after con, con-/sensual, had me thinking of an added meaning – with sensuality. Of course, the colonization of indigenous peoples and lands in Canada was done with utter lack of consent. Any good intention brought by representatives of the Crown to the meetings between leaders of nations that happened at treaty signings in this land we now call Canada soon faded under the weight of deceit and the smothering blanket of the Indian Act. By using the vocabulary of treaty, discovery and consent in her poem, Tenille manages to both indict colonization and celebrate consenting unions. It is a short poem with both condemnation and generosity in it.

Tenille’s poetry is playful. As a woman, I feel empowered by reading Tenille’s passion for her own body, and her enjoyment of sex. It makes for fun reading when she can’t remember the name of the lover she is with, or when she shares that she decidedly does not love her lover’s mother! This sense of playfulness leads to joy, and the joy in her poetry accumulates as an irrefutable sense of pride which you can see in this next poem. Note in this poem her use of the cree word for white man, môniyâs.

from #608

I stand up
tall and proud
sensuality in the pout of my lips
the curve of my hips
the swell of my breasts
and I smile

judge me all you want
I enjoy being woman
being sexual
being free
to claim my own partners
to crack up in bed
to throw back my head with laughter
to find joy
between sheets
under stars
within him
him and him
whoever I want

Tenille K. Campbell, ibid

The laughter and joy in this poem is all through Tenille’s #IndianLovePoems. I came away feeling happier for having read them. I’d also point out that Tenille has an impressive website: Her “Reading List” presents a treasure trove of poetry reviews, largely poetry by indigenous poets. I’m still working my way through it, and I’d encourage you to take a look as well.

Juleta Severson-Baker, Calgary, November, 2022

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