Breaking Down the Word: Decolonizing Orature in Gregory Scofield’s “Ôchim/His Kiss”

The following is  an excerpt from a conference paper I presented at The Biennial Conference of the Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada (ALECC):

The contention between literary forms is one of the main sources of energy in Scofield’s poem “Ôchim/His Kiss,” and dares the reader to examine new perspectives on Cree narrative/poetic process and the relationships between human, animal, and land. The poem starts with the initiation of the sexual act “his mouth brushing mine/ is a flat stone/ skipping the lake’s surface” (Scofield 1-3). The poem begins in medias res, the non-capitalization of the first word “his” (1), indicates that the poem is a continuation of an unwritten and exterior utterance. The continuation from an utterance that has already begun implies that there is a larger narrative outside of the poem; to be thrust in medias res there must be a middle of a narrative in which to be thrust. Poetic techniques contrast against these narrative markers. In the opening lines there is a chiasmic splitting of a metaphor in the above passage that tears the reader away from a simple identification of the poem as a narrative. The subject, “his mouth” turns into “a flat stone,” and the action proceeding from the mouth “brushing mine” turns into the action proceeding from the stone, “skipping on the lake’s surface” (1,2,3). This split separates the subjects from the actions upon their objects, and since narrative is contingent upon a clear subject-object relation, the poem creates a distance between the two that challenges that principle.

The blurring of the distinction between subject-object also advocates for a different relationship between human, animal and land. The separation between these entities in “Ôchim/His Kiss” are nearly non-existent. Such thin, transparent lines of separation highlight a shared embodied experience with animals and land—wâhkôtowin (‘kinship’). Kinship between humans, animals and land, defies the simplistic subject-object power relationship colonialism relies on in order to reproduce itself. Narratives in the Western tradition rely on a clear distinction between subject and object, but Scofield’s metaphors (or transformations, more accurately) defy such clear distinctions. Scofield only signals the transformations twice in the entirety of “Ôchim/His Kiss” with the verb “is” (2, 7). Most of the transformations occur freely without any signalling, continuing to challenge narrative structures that usually requires a clearer pretext—a relation between cause and effect—for such transformations. At the same time, the transformations seem to follow the narrative arc of a sexual act.  They proceed from initiation (the kissing of lines one through three), to foreplay (the, licking, touching, and yielding of lines four through thirteen), to sexual climax (the ascendance of lines fourteen through seventeen), to a final release and denouement (the slowing reverberations of line eighteen to twenty-one). The overall result of this structure is the alternating pull between the formal elements of poetry and those of narrative.

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