Rebecca Thomas centers her poetry on indigenous matters
Even though Halifax’s poet laureate, Rebecca Thomas, has only been a part of the poetry scene for five years, her impact has been immense.
As a Mi’kmaw woman, Thomas puts a huge emphasis on indigenous affairs when she practices her rhythmic verse, offering the aboriginal perspective on the common issues and cultural stereotypes.
“History is taught by the victors and most of the history we are taught in schools is very colonial,” Thomas says. “It’s very one-sided and biased. We have never been in control of our own stories and our own voice.”
She brings that perspective to the annual Edmonton Poetry Festival’s Horizons this week and hopes her performance will broaden and challenge the listener’s perspectives.
“It can be sensitive stuff,” she explains. “If I say that a story is quite racist, there’s always an individual who is thinking ‘Well I’m not racist. I’m a good person.’ It’s not that I’m calling out the listener as racist, but the history that they grew up learning and believing in.”
Graduating with a masters degree in Social Anthropology, with a focus on Canadian Indigenous Identity and Conflict, poetry wasn’t something Thomas actively sought out until she wrote a poem for a professional development course. After realizing she enjoyed the cathartic exercise, Thomas joined a women’s writing group and eventually performed at a few open mics.
“It was really nice to be able to write something that didn’t have to be in APA style with in-text citations, you know, academic style,” Thomas says. “Poetry let me be free. The release really appealed to me.”
She also saw poetry as a more digestible and accessible way to present her indigenous voice to a broader audience than the academic style.
“I was very frustrated. I wanted to be heard,” she says. “I mean, nobody’s going to look up my million page masters thesis and be like, ‘Hmm, we should really reevaluate the way we treat Indigenous people in Canada.'”
As time went on, Thomas slowly embedded herself within the Halifax poetry scene, leading the Halifax slam team, and eventually becoming the city’s poet laureate after the previous one, El Jones, stepped down.
“I decided to apply and certainly didn’t expect myself to be good enough to even qualify, but I thought it was a good exercise,” she says of the experience. “So when I found out that I made the short list, I was very excited. I still can’t believe that this panel of Nova Scotian literary hearts decided I was a successful candidate.”
Thomas’ poetic style usually stems from a form of beat free verse and doesn’t rely on the use of flowery metaphors to get her point across.
“I don’t mince words when it comes to thick metaphors,” Thomas explains. “I don’t want people to misinterpret what I have to say. When I have three minutes to convince you of my perspective I don’t want people to be confused. They need to know what I’m saying.”
Her performance can be at times silently moving and sometimes very aggressive and fiery.
“Progress for us is glacial. That’s where my frustration comes. It’s hard to be indigenous in Canada, but people only try to see the benefits. Sometimes, I use that aggression, so you can bet that it will passionate,” she says.
Until Sun., Apr. 23
Edmonton Poetry Fesitival’s Horizons
Various Edmonton venues, Prices vary