Samantha Nock is a Cree-Métis writer/poet from the BC Peace Region in Treaty 8 Territory. Her family is originally from Ile-a-la-Crosse, SK in Treaty 10 Territory. She currently resides on the unceded lands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. Her debut poetry book, A Family of Dreamers, was released this fall.
Samantha Nock’s debut poetry collection, A Family of Dreamers from Talonbooks, often feels like a memoir: intensely personal, with stories of leaving, loving, longing, of living physically in one place but feeling your heart firmly planted in another. Nock’s images of the rivers, trees, plants and places of her home create a rich landscape in the reader’s mind. Other poems make the most everyday interactions with loved ones – drinking coffee, playing Pictionary, watching The Young and the Restless – seem like epic events, to be celebrated and remembered.
Interviewed by Rebeca Dunn-Krahn, over Zoom
Rebeca Dunn-Krahn (RDK): What impact do you hope that your work has on readers?
Samantha Nock (SN): First and foremost, my audience is my family and my community. I write for them and I hope that they can see themselves in my work and I hope that they feel seen and held in my work. That’s really my intention. I don’t write for settlers, but that doesn’t mean that my work isn’t open to them. I just don’t want to try and change my words or change my point of view to make it more consumable in that way, if that makes sense. But one of the really beautiful things I love about poetry is that there are universal aspects of it, and there are ways that anybody can find themselves in a poem and can find meaning for themselves in a poem. I do hope that there are parts of my poetry that people outside of my family and even outside of my community feel there are places they can see themselves and places that they feel like they’re learning new perspectives or learning new worldviews. And I just hope that reading my work has a place in their journey, whatever that looks like.
RDK: Many of the poems in the collection include words in Cree. What types of ideas, images and feelings are you better able to invoke using Cree instead of English?
SN: English is a language that was forced onto my family, and I think a lot about how English has taken away a lot of integral aspects of my understanding and my ability to communicate with my kin, and that includes some living kin I still have and some who have passed. My great grandma didn’t speak English. She only spoke Cree. And so I was never able to communicate with her while she was earthside. I mean, we could communicate through hand gestures, smiling. But we could never talk. I also think a lot about how English has created a barrier with being able to communicate with my more-than-human kin. Even how I name plants or animals. Their names exist in our language and what we call them in English to me isn’t their name.
When I bring Cree into my poetry and my other written work it acts as a way for me to push myself to learn the language because there’s nothing I’m putting in my book or in any of my writing that I don’t know the meaning of. And it’s a way for me to learn and connect and also find parts of myself and call my own self home in my work. I also wanted it to be there for relatives in my community, when they’re reading, to recognize the language and feel excited because I know when I see Cree in work, I get really excited because I’m like, oh, this is a place for me to stop. I need to sound out these words. I need to try and speak these words. And I want to learn what they mean. So I’m opening up my books, I’m talking to people, making those connections, and it’s exciting. And I would hope that for other people whose language is Cree, that they feel that too. But then on the other hand, another aspect of it is that I really want it to be a bit disruptive on the page for settler audiences. It’s not to make the poem inaccessible to them. But I purposely don’t provide any translation in my book. Because I want people to have to work for it, to have to work through trying to figure out context clues. I want you to have to Google the words and I want you to be like, “Oh no, there actually is no way I can Google this to have that experience.”
RDK: What do you get out of performing poetry?
SN: Being in that space where I’m getting to actually speak the words out loud and I get to see people’s reactions to them, it feels so connecting and rewarding. It’s also a fun way to learn how different poems land with different audiences and how there isn’t one universal way people are going to connect to your poetry. Once a long time ago I read at an event and most of the audience were older white folks from Europe and I learned that my poetry didn’t land well. And that’s okay. It was a really interesting experience because I’m so used to reading for Indigenous folks or folks who have more of a context of where we are in so-called Canada. So that was interesting. And even the bad experiences are great because I’m like, wow, that was that was a lot of learning!
RDK: Who are some of your favourite poets, past and present?
SN: This is a hard one. Brandi Bird just released a book called The All + Flesh. It just came out with House of Anansi and it is a phenomenal work. One of the truest, most amazing joys is getting to live in a world where Brandi’s poetry exists.
A lot of my inspiration has come from Marilyn Dumont, who is a wonderful Métis poet. Her book of poetry called A Really Good Brown Girl was one of the first books of poetry by an Indigenous person I’d ever read when I was a teenager, and it was also one of the first works that I’ve read by another Métis person. And it was so phenomenal to be able to see and read these connections to a world beyond what I had even known within my family and to feel like, oh, our existence isn’t just within the little community I grew up with? There’s other people out there?
Amber Dawn is just a wonderful, supportive person and a huge inspiration. Her book Where the Words End and My Body Begins, was also a pivotal work for me. I felt like I got to go through all these wonderful emotions with someone else. And it also inspired me. I’m like, I want to do this. I want to write a book.
And Rita Bouvier, who is my cousin. She’s from Île-à-la-Crosse. I honestly only recently connected with her because I have a couple lines from her work in the beginning of my book. I’ve known who she is for a long time, but I was so nervous to reach out to her because there’s community beefs, right? There are family beefs. I was messaging my mom and calling my kokum and being like, “Hey, so I’m gonna reach out to Rita. We all good, right?” And everyone’s like, “Why are you being such a weirdo?” And then I sent her this message that was so long. I was like, “Hi, we’re related. I love your work.” And it has been such a beautiful connection. Reading her books is amazing because they are literally about the place our family is from. She’s writing about our shared relatives. It was a way to get to know family after being displaced, because I didn’t grow up in Île-à-la-Crosse. I only got to visit a few times when I was really, really young, so it was really amazing.
I’m realizing this is such a Cree-heavy list.
Other poets like Dallas Hunt. Creeland is such an amazing book.
Selina Boan’s Undoing Hours is a phenomenal book and Selina is just a very beautiful and vulnerable writer I just appreciate so much.
Cecily Nicholson and Mercedes Eng: their work has been so inspirational. And I’ve loved all the opportunities I’ve had to hear Mercedes read.
RDK: Are there other art forms or artists you take inspiration from outside of poetry?
SN: Music is huge for me. There are many different genres of music I went through in my life and they feel like a marker of time. There’s some poems in this book that are directly inspired by musicians I know, and that’s like a “for me” thing. And to know that, oh, this happened during this time of my life and I was listening to this kind of music. And I can see that reflected in this work. And then there’s some places where that comes out a little bit more bluntly. Music has just been this amazing marker of time for me.
RDK: For the Victoria Festival of Authors, you will be taking part a poetry walk. What should participants expect from this experience?
SN: I’ve never participated in the poetry walk before. From my understanding, we’re going to a very beautiful nature area and we’re going to experience different poets read along a walk through a nature reserve. I think it’s going to be a really beautiful melding of poetry in place, and I’ve never had the opportunity to read outside or to read in nature like this, so I’m really excited to see what that feels like. I am thinking a lot about what it means for me to be a Cree-Métis writer who is writing from a place that raised me and also a place that I come from and to be reading these words on someone else’s territory. How can I contextualize this and how can I do this in a good way? So that’s something I’m thinking through and I hope that this is something I can also impart to the audience, and we can share in that. I don’t know who the audience is going to be – I can’t predict that – but I do know that I’m not going to be the only one that’s not from there. I think it’s going to be an interesting experience to just navigate that and what that means.
RDK: What are you working on next?
SN: I have some little things percolating around. I started drafting a couple new poems for maybe a second poetry book. Part of me wants to collect all the different essays and articles I’ve written and see if I have enough for a collection of personal essays. But another part of me just wants to go completely off road and be like, maybe we’re writing fiction now? But mostly I just want to take a breather and sit with the experience of writing this first poetry book and going through this publishing experience that I’ve never been through before. It’s been such a dream of mine to write a book. And these poems were like ten years in the making. So I just kind of want to savor this experience before I start jumping to the next one.