An Achingly Beautiful Gift From a Rare Storyteller

I once had a friend ask me “how to read poetry” – a request that still stumps me to this day, and many others have tried to answer!

I love reading poetry for the sensory experience. For me, it’s really just about allowing yourself to surrender to the experience and get a glimpse of someone’s inner world through their eyes.

If you’ve never read much poetry but have been considering giving it a try, check out Spílexm: A Weaving of Recovery, Resilience, and Resurgence, one of WPL’s Early Winter Featured Reads and a gorgeous book of memoir by Nicola I. Campbell. I have admired and shared Campbell’s children’s books for years, and was so excited to get my hands on a copy of her first book for adults! Campbell is a prolific author who is Nłeʔkepmx, Syilx, and Métis, from British Columbia.

Spílexm is a Nłeʔkepmxcín word that translates to “remembered stories,” ones that are often shared over tea between Elders, which is exactly how reading this book feels.

The book opens with a series of letters dating back to the early 70s, and it has a fierce intimacy to it. It’s like sitting with a new person you’ve just met and suddenly you’re in their childhood home and they’re showing you their photo albums and all of their most precious treasures, letters, and tchotchkes, and even though their vulnerability uproots you, the strength of seeing this person’s willingness to show you these treasures gives you new perspectives and a deep sense of feeling less alone.

I felt this when reading Campbell’s children’s books as well, particularly Shi-Shi-etko and Grandpa’s Girls. Campbell is one of those rare writers that can express the depths of familial love so intensely in everyday rituals, and the unique grief of being disconnected from that familial love (be it through a gentle child’s eyes before having to leave to go to residential school) to her own life. She shows, she doesn’t tell. For example, in Grandpa’s Girls four rowdy cousins are let loose to get up to some shenanigans on Grandpa’s farm in B.C., and they find a treasure trove of old photos, preserves, and other pieces of their history giving them a new perspective on Grandpa and Grandma.

Campbell shares precious vignettes that make up a life: going on a camping trip to pick blackberries, sneaking out on New Year’s Eve to go to her first dance as a preteen, and the unique experience as an adult of working as a transcriptionist, recording Nłeʔkepmxcín interviews and audios of her nation’s Elders. As a former transcriptionist, I couldn’t help but giggle at her assessment of the audio sounding “Chipmunk like,” when sped up or rewound, which is incredibly true.

This is an achingly beautiful book that truly holds up the adage of “the only way out is through.” Spílexm is a great read for those may be a bit hesitant to dip their toes into reading prose or poetry – much of the book is like any other memoir in short chapters, with poems, letters, and other prose mixed in.