The Neyhiyawak (Plains Cree) word "Kitotam" translates into English as, "He Speaks to It." This is a collection of free-verse poetry by Indigenous poet and artist John McDonald. Written in two parts, these poems chronicle John's life and experiences as an urban Indigenous youth during the 1980s. The second half of the book is a look into the inspirations and events, that shaped John's career as an internationally known spoken word artist, beat poet, monologist and performance artist.
About the author
John McDonald is a multidisciplinary writer and artist originally from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. A sixth-generation direct descendant of Chief Mistawasis of the Plains Cree, John's writings and artwork have been displayed in various publications, private and permanent collections and galleries around the world. John is one of the founding members of the P.A. Lowbrow art movement, and is the Vice President of the Indigenous Peoples Artists Collective.?John has studied at England's prestigious University of Cambridge, where in July 2000 he made international headlines by symbolically 'discovering' and 'claiming' England for the First Peoples of the Americas. John is also an acclaimed public speaker, who has presented in venues across the globe, such as the Anskohk Aboriginal Literature Festival, the Black Hills Seminars on Reclaiming Youth, The Appalachian Mountain Seminars, the Edmonton and Fort McMurray Literary Festival, the Eden Mills Writers Festival and at the Ottawa International Writers Festival. John was honoured with the opportunity to speak in Australia in April of 2001. John was also included in the Aboriginal Artists and Performers Inventory for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, BC. John lives in Northern Saskatchewan.
I have a feeling that John McDonald is an old soul. Like many of the people he writes about, in his latest manuscript of poetry called Kitotam, John's words indicate wisdom beyond his years. For the reader, this book is both a glimpse into the dark side of human behaviour, as well as a celebration of culture, people, place, and time. Kitotam is a unique blend of poetry and prose, but at its heart, it is storytelling. The author takes the reader through an uncomfortable labyrinth of the forced disconnection from his own Cree culture, telling the journey of finding his way back to the Red Road, and a place to belong. Kitotam is an honouring of our Indigenous Ancestors and finding strength through prayer, and learning through observation. It is a collection that should be on everyone's must-read list.
- Carol Rose GoldenEagle, author of Hiraeth, Bearskin Diary and The Narrows of Fear
John McDonald's newest poetry collection published by Saskatchewan's Radiant Press is titled Kitotam - a Plains Cree word that translates into English as "he speaks to it." And that is exactly what McDonald does in these poems. No fancy language, no complicated word gymnastics, just here is my story, here is the way I see the world.
Having grown up myself in the city of Prince Albert,Saskatchewan,I know well the people and places of which McDonald writes. He brings to life the memory of oiled gravel streets, the forgotten small cemetery in the bush behind Canadian Tire, The Orpheum, Tu-bac-co Square, Star Billiards on Central Avenue, teenagers making out at The Little Red, and in a city surrounded by forest, the signpost north of town where Smokey the Bear's arm signals a high fire risk, scent of smoke on the air. He speaks to this place, to its people.
He speaks to the lives of poets, musicians, friends and mentors - humble hearted eulogies to people who, as he writes in his moving poem, For Bernice, "went all in." There are poems in Kitotam that speak to an honoring of those who have come before. In Grandfather's Hands we learn of a grandfather who, though his mind failed him,again and again, his hands never did.
McDonald is well known as a champion for his people. As he says in The Dog Soldiers, We speak for our deadWe speak and we fightFor ThoseAwiyak eka kohpehtakosowenitVoicelss
He speaks to some hard truths in his poems. Poems such as Why Are We Upset and So Sick of Beads, Why I Do What I Do - here are poems that make the reader sit up and pay attention to some important concerns. He speaks to it. We would do well to listen.
There are bitter poems here,too. In his poem titled Saskatchewan, he speaks to the cold winter wind that, as he says "kills any love I have for the place." In Growing Up in P.A. we have 'the pale bleak sky over the City of Jails." Life here has not always been kind and he speaks to those experiences with a clear honesty. Yet, in Northern People, there is, unmistakeably, a real sense of pride . "We're northern people, shaped by Mother Nature's own forge." In his lovely poem, Walkabout in Treaty 4 Territory, we find
I turn to face north.The ribbon of asphalt at my feet stretches from here to La Ronge400 kilometers down this stretch liesThe turnoff to my house
I feel suffocated by the open landI need trees
In Needing Trees too, McDonald's love of this place he calls home shines. How familiar that feeling is to those of us who know the north. He speaks to it.
In his short poem, A Touch of Inspiration, he writes
Words come rarely these days
But when they do
By god, you must be ready to write them down
Before they run awayMake sure your net has no holes
I would say to this, do not worry. Your net is strong.Kitotam is a collection of poetry you won't want to miss. Copies are available through Radiant Press at radiantpress.ca