Jónína Kirton, a Red River Métis/Icelandic poet was sixty-one when she received the 2016 Vancouver’s Mayor’s Arts Award for an Emerging Artist in the Literary Arts category. Her second collection of poetry, An Honest Woman, was a finalist in the 2018 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize.
“We don’t always get to choose what we write about…this piece definitely choose me and I am so glad it did,” says Jónína about her latest work, A Story Within Many Stories.
A Story Within Many Stories
Every word I select is at the expense of others. – Betsy Warland, Bloodroot: Tracing the Untelling of Motherloss
Much of my writing has been about loss and intergenerational trauma from the perspective of a mixed race, settler/Indigenous woman. As I tried to tell my story, the question of ‘whose story is this to tell’, presented itself over and over and yet I was obsessed with understanding/uncovering all that my family preferred to hide. Born in 1955 to an Icelandic/Irish mother and a Métis father I was a curious child and often considered ‘too sensitive’. I had no one to tell me that my curiosity was a good thing or that my sensitivity was empathy and that this was a gift. There was no one to help me learn how to live with gifts that can make it hard to be in this colonized, patriarchal world so when my niece, Gabby was born in 2004, I knew I needed to be there for her. Sadly, economics and distance made this impossible so I wrote books thinking of her, hoping that one day she would read them. I wanted to tell her the truth of what life is like for mixed blood women and part of this truth telling included the abuse I had suffered at the hands of my own father (her grandfather whom she loved deeply). It made me want to be even more careful, and fair, to my father. For a time, I felt like a declawed cat, but I still had my mouth, my words became sharp teeth, pointed so that they could sink deeper into the truth. So rather than scratching or clawing, creating disorganized chaos, they were like arrows landing deeply inside. Unquestionable. They became unquestionable offerings detailing abuse without an opinion about my abusers, whoever they were. Like so many limitations, it brought creativity that I might not have been able to come to otherwise.
I am happy to say that now that my niece is seventeen, we connect regularly via social media. We have been getting to know one another. She speaks to me about her thoughts on things like social justice and has become interested in poetry. In one of our last communications, she sent me a Virginia Woolf quote that inspired this poem:
for my niece Gabby
I am rooted, but I flow. – Virginia Woolf, Waves
I am a story within the stories of many
I am a paradox
one thing and then another
parts of a whole
that does not know itself
turning towards the invisible
I can see the limits of knowledge
the places where formulas dissolve
into knowing that can only come
when quiet and walking in a forest
where the standing ones watch and wait
for us to return to ourselves to the new stories that are waiting to unfold
I pray daily to the Ancestors and ask them to help me walk in a good way so that I can be there for my niece, for all who come behind me. One way I know of ‘being there for others’ is to be honest. I focus on this so much as it was the one thing I most wanted from my mother, my father, my aunts, and uncles. I don’t want to be one of those that bury natural curiosity and talents or gifts under a blanket of misinformation that can take a lifetime to unravel. If honesty/truth is there, we can then properly assess what is needed. That was why they called it Truth and Reconciliation. There can be no reconciliation or healing without truth. There can be no new stories until we face the past, accept the truth and then together find our way forward. ~ All my Relations
Jónína Kirton visits Brockton Writers Series via ephemera series on Wednesday, September 8, 2021 starting at 6:30pm alongside Antonio Michael Downing, Fonda Lee, and C. L. Polk . Our guest speaker Tamara Faith Berger will talk us through, “Messing with the Pipes: Writing Sex with Substance”.
Special note: As we adapt to current social distancing regulations, we’re happy to announce our event will be hosted by the wonderful ephemera series! They have already done their show online multiple times, so we are thrilled to benefit from their technical expertise, while also increasing collaboration within the literary community and growing connections between organizers, authors, and audience. You can attend the event by watching on the ephemera series YouTube channel. Please log in at 6:30.