Notable Quotable: Kim Blaeser (Anishinaabe) on the Importance of Poetry in Native Communities

By Carolyn Coons
Woman in blue lacy dress posing outdoors.

Kim Blaeser, founding director of Indigenous Nations Poets, or In-Na-Po. Photo by John Fisher

I had this lively family of storytellers. I think there’s something about that that feeds you. I was nourished in my love of language, in my love of stories and songs and word play, and I really think of that as the foundation for the work I do now. I began writing poetry when I learned to write, and I’ve written poetry my whole life. When I was too shy to speak, I often turned to language on the page or invented things in my head. Reciting poetry out loud was not an unusual thing in our house. The rhythm of my life was around language and performance and how that was a part of community.

When I think about Indigenous literature broadly and I think about the arts in Native communities, I always talk about them as being both affective and effective. For poetry: it’s beautiful as language, but it also does something in the world. Those two things are happening simultaneously, and that’s part of a really important foundation in Indigenous literatures. The way that our arts have always been practiced, they’re nurturing to the community. They help us flourish as people, they make us stronger, they reinforce our teachings.

Poet and past Wisconsin Poet Laureate Kim Blaeser (Anishinaabe) is the founding director of In-Na-Po (Indigenous Nations Poets), a national Indigenous poetry community that supports emerging writers and Indigenous poetic practices. The organization is part of the Poetry Coalition, a group of more than 25 independent poetry organizations that promote poetry’s societal and artistic value. Raised in a family of storytellers, Blaeser believes that poetry plays a crucial role in preserving Native languages and affirming tribal sovereignty. Read the full story in the American Artscape issue, Contemporary Culture: Equity and Access in the Arts for Native American Communities.

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