The Shocking and Transformative Power of Poetry – A Poem by Gregory Scofield

The Billboard at AKA-Artist Run in Saskatoon in 2018
of Gregory Scofield’s Poem: She is Spitting a Mouthful of Stars


She is Spitting a Mouthful of Stars (Nikâwi’s Song) 

She is Spitting a Mouthful of Stars
She is laughing more than the men who
beat her.
She is ten horses breaking open the day.
She is new to her bones.
She is holy in the dust.

She is spitting a mouthful of stars.
She is singing louder than the men
who raped her.
She is walking beyond the Milky Way
She is new to her breath.
She is sacred in her breathing.

She is spitting a mouthful of stars.
She holds the light more than those
who despised her.
She is folding clouds in her movement.
She is new to this sound.
She is unbroken flesh.

She is spitting a mouthful of stars.
She is laughing more than those
who shamed her.
She is ten horses breaking open the dark.
She is new to these bones.
She is holy in their dust.

Gregory Scofield (1966 – ) from CBC’s The next Chapter, January 2016

An elegy. A hymn. A praise poem. The epigraph poem to this blog post, She is Spitting a Mouthful of Stars, is an extraordinary poetic achievement by Gregory Scofield. He takes one of the great tragic stories in recent Canadian history (our murdered and missing indigenous women) and turns it on its head. Gives a lament a triumphant turn. Gives disempowered women an extraordinary afterlife. The hope and celebration in this poem out of something seemingly so hopeless and worthy of despair seems an apt way to begin 2021 after a such a desperate and despairing 2020. Thank you Gregory.

Gregory, a Métis of Cree, Scottish, French and Jewish descent is known for his advocacy and activism on behalf of murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada. As a high school dropout he has developed a remarkable CV. Currently an assistant professor of writing at the University of Victoria, B.C., he is a poet (eight volumes) memoirist, activist and traditional beadmaker. His epigraph poem is not only a searing tribute to those women (“She”)but is particularly poignant because his aunt was one of those women, murdered in 1998.

In an interview with Shelaugh Rogers in 2016 Scofied said:

A lot of the work that I’ve been doing around missing and murdered Indigenous women really stems from a personal experience with losing my auntie in 1998 to very mysterious circumstances. Her death was a homicide, and it was a homicide that was really never brought to justice. I decided, back then, that I was going to use my voice, my public profile, to do advocacy work around missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Canadian Métis poet, professor and activist Gregory Scofield

His advocacy has taken many forms. He posted on twitter for a number of years every day a name of one of those women as well as writing the poem above which takes this awful chapter in our shared Canadian history and transforms the “She” in the poem from victim to an empowered person of almost mythic portportions. This transformation is so startling and all encompassing that it approaches, for me, a kind of healing redemption for these women and their loved ones.

The agency Scofield gives the women, the “She”,  is driven home by anaphora: She is…In this way “She” is the subject of almost every line and the men who beat, raped and despised her become the object. And when I say Scofield transforms the “She” it is more a resurrection. Nothing less than bringing these women back to life, “walking beyond the Milky Way.” And their elevation to something numinous, sacred: She is new to her breath./ She is sacred in her breathing. And the searing ending to stanzas one and four: She is holy in the (their) dust.

But it is not only the use of anaphora that brings such power to the poem. But the use of metaphor. The striking range of answers to the “She is…” She is spitting stars, ten horses, folding clouds, unbroken flesh. And above all that she is holy and sacred.

If ever there was an example of how a poem can change how we think of something in the world without sacrificing its lyric power and craft, this is such a one. What a powerful thing Greg has done for his aunt and all those women who died so tragically and were ignored for all too long. And the sheer power of the transformative words of Greg’s poem inspire me to want to transform the searing laments for all those who died last year from all causes but especially Covid-19, violence, war and poverty and celebrate instead their walking with Greg’s “She” among the Milky Way and saying as Greg has said: They are sacred in their breathing. They are holy in their dust.





  1. Heidi Garnett
    Posted January 2, 2021 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    I worked with Gregory once and found him to be inspiring. He takes risks with his poems and I admire that greatly.

  2. Teri
    Posted January 3, 2021 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    This is a stunning piece of poetry and your commentary and details really helped me to go even deeper. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Richard Osler
    Posted January 10, 2021 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Thanks again Teri. Glad to have ypou as a reader!

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *