Melissa Shawanda Pitawanakwat (centre) and Lisa Osawasmick unpack I am Not a Poet, the latest book launched on the Sudbury literary scene. The anthology grew out of the 10-week writing project, known as A Creative Writing Conversation Circle.

By Laura E. Young

SUDBURY—Never before had Melissa Shawanda Pitawanakwat written anything like this:

“I am from the sounds and murmurs

of the old voices

of the old Anishnaabe language.”

But joining Sudbury’s Creative Writing Conversation Circle left the single mom from Wikwemikong with pages full of journal entries and her first published poem, and the need to keep writing.

Pitawanakwat was one of 15 writers published in a new anthology, I am Not a Poet. The book launch on Sudbury’s diverse literary scene was part of greater showcase of “Warrior Women,” which celebrated International Women’s Week, March 6-10.

The event was held at N’Swakamok Friendship Centre in Sudbury on March 10.

“It’s quite the thing to have us bring out everything we are carrying,” said Pitawanakwat. “It was really hard. It made me think. It made me pour out deep inner emotions on paper and think about my childhood, to honour my childhood and to honour where I came from. It also helps us because we have the fear of expressing grief, because we are women and we carry so much. This allows us to voice that and put it down in writing, too—bring it out to the world.”

The launch of the poetry anthology emerged from a 10-week writing project, known as A Creative Writing Conversation Circle. This circle was another component of Looking ahead to build the spirit of our women – Learning to live free from Violence.

Looking ahead is part of the work of the Greater Sudbury Police Service to move forward on issues of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

The Writing Conversation Circle began after Lisa Osawamick, the GSPS’s Aboriginal women violence prevention coordinator, met Jan Buley, an education professor at Laurentian University, at an event late in 2016. They discussed setting up a creative initiative in some form to the Looking Ahead project.

Osawamick put up posters around the city to advertise. There were a few open sessions before the 15 Indigenous and non-Indigenous women became a closed group.

“They come from different lived experience and backgrounds but joined to work on their healing through writing,” said Osawamick.

She hopes that the women will continue to express themselves through their writing and that they feel empowered, “and knowing that we have a voice and that [they] can express it through [writing]) as well.”

Buley believes they are all stronger writers after the project finished and that everyone is a poet with stories to tell.

“There is no better way in my opinion to share one’s inner spirit than through the beauty of words,” she said. “This is opening up a window they didn’t know they had to open.”

Recordings of some of the poetry can be found at www.soundcloud.ca, see the link I am Not a Poet.