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Last Modified: March 2, 2023
Illustration of a crow sitting on a book, with the following text to the left, "Crow Reads Podcast"
CROW READS with Emily Riddle

Crow Reads is a podcast series by Rayanne Haines, in which she interviews intersectional women, LGBTQ+, and non-binary authors, publishers, editors, agents, and booksellers from Alberta. 

In this month’s podcast, Rayanne Haines speaks with Emily Riddle about her debut poetry collection, The Big Melt. The collection is rooted in nehiyaw thought and urban millennial life events. It examines what it means to repair kinship, contend with fraught history, go home and contemplate prairie ndn utopia in the era of late capitalism and climate change. Part memoir, part research project, this collection draws on Riddle’s experience working in Indigenous governance and her affection for confessional poetry in crafting feminist works that are firmly rooted in place. In their conversation, Emily and Rayanne speak about kinship, land, joy, queer love, and intergenerational trauma in magpies.

The book is rooted in home and kinship to relatives, and to land. Says Riddle, “It is kind of a book about Homecoming. I think I really didn’t appreciate the way in which I’m affixed to or have relationships to this territory until I came back. I think it came through living on someone else’s land and working for First Nations and BC and seeing their kind of grounded normativity and relationship to place that I really realized that I had this here.” Riddle also noted that collective kinship to land in the collection and how she felt the land was animated as a character in the book as a way of exploring climate change. She notes further that for Cree people kinship informs much of how they exist in the world. In their teachings they believe they are all connected, and because of this they’re “accountable to each other if we are in relation with each other.”

The Big Melt is split into four sections—The Big Kinship, The Big Melt, The Big Prayer, and The Big Horizon. Each poem in The Big Prayer section is titled with a colour. When asked about the significance, Riddle offered this “Our nehiyaw rainbow is regular rainbow colours, but also with an addition of light blue. And so often, when you offer cloth or ribbon to an Elder, you’ll bring all of those rainbow colours, because that is in itself a big prayer, that rainbow prayer. So there is actually philosophies or kind of laws that go around each of those colours. I wanted to ruminate on all of those colours in that section.”

In many poems, Riddle considers animals and their kinship as well. “Dinosaur Economics” contemplates fossil fuels and the strange contradiction that comes with growing up in Alberta. Animals come into the book in other ways too. Take magpies for instance. Says Riddle, “I have a poem about an ex-girlfriend, thinking they were annoying and relating to these magpies, because they used to follow the Buffalo and eat the bugs off of them. And now that we don’t have giant herds of Buffalo on the prairies anymore, we’ve been taught that they have this intergenerational trauma and this is why they behave in kind of rude ways . . . we’re taught in the Bible that humans are given dominion over the planet and in our teachings it’s not like that. We’re on the same level as them so that kind of kinship is different and more lateral.”

The book offers teaching, yes, and joy. Joy around kinship, heritage and tradition, and that deep joy that is centred in motherhood. When asked if she could speak about how she moved through the collection in a way that centred joy, while at the same time making space to interrogate those politics and decolonization, Emily Riddle said, “we’re matrilineal people so for us you get your clan and your nation and everything from your Mother. . . My Mother taught me to have relationship to this territory, despite so many things that have tried to remove us from being in relationship to where we live and to each other.” For Riddle, centring joy in the book was important as a foil to critique against the many ways Indigenous people have had to fight against process and structures meant to remove them from their land and relations. In this book she deftly and powerfully guides us through all the ways Indigenous people make room for joy. It is a collection full of nuance, humour, sharp political commentary, and at its core, love.

Have a listen to hear the full conversation.

Emily Riddle reading her book, The Big Melt. Emily Riddle is Nehiyaw and a member of the Alexander First Nation (Kipohtakaw). A writer, editor, policy analyst, language learner and visual artist, she lives in Amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton). She is the senior advisor of Indigenous relations at the Edmonton Public Library. Her writing has been published in The Globe and Mail, Teen Vogue, The Malahat Review and Room Magazine, among others. In 2021 she was awarded the Edmonton Artists’ Trust Award. Emily Riddle is a semi dedicated Oilers fan and a dedicated Treaty Six descendant who believes deeply in the brilliance of the Prairies and their people.

Book cover of "The Big Melt" by Emily Riddle. The Big Melt

Emily Riddle (CA)

Published: Nov 19, 2022 by Nightwood Editions
ISBN: 9780889714366

Rayanne Haines (she/her) is a pushcart nominated author, educator, and cultural producer. She was the 2022 Writer in Residence for the Metro Edmonton Federation of Libraries and is the author of three poetry collections. She hosts the literary podcast Crow Reads, is the VP for the League of Canadian Poets, and teaches with MacEwan University. Her collection, Tell the Birds Your Body Is Not A Gun won the 2022 Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry and was shortlisted for the ReLit Award and the Robert Kroetsch Poetry Award. Recent work has been published in The Globe and Mail, Minola Review, Qwerty, and Prairie Fire.

Book cover image for "Tell the Birds Your Body is Not a Gun" by Rayanne HainesTell the Birds Your Body is Not a Gun

Rayanne Haines (CA)

Published: Apr 15, 2021 by Frontenac House Ltd.
ISBN: 9781989466216