Sweetgrass, cigarettes and healing

Twenty-two-year-old Aleria McKay from Six Nations is a self-published author with one poetry book already under her belt. McKay is working on adding another to her repertoire which explores themes of grief, trauma and loss.

“My first book Thunderstorms was published in February of 2020. Right before the pandemic. And it was an anthology of my work over the years focusing on adolescence and growing up,” said McKay. “The book I am working on now focuses on grief and trauma while also addressing the loss of my dad to addiction in 2019.”

The author said she landed on the title “Sweetgrass & Cigarettes” in reference to the first poem in her new book and being in her dad’s car which always carried the scent of cigarettes with sweetgrass.

“His car smelled like cigarettes and he kept sweetgrass in the rearview mirror,” she explained. “I thought it was an interesting juxtaposition. Exploring themes of trauma, identity and culture is so entwined in that.”

McKay said she wants to publish another poetry book to reflect who she is now as a writer in this stage of life.

“My first poetry book was a compilation of pieces I wanted to publish since I was 16 and although those pieces are a reflection of who I was at the time, I want to have another go at it relating to where I am now,” she added. “Instead of picking entries I had previously written to fill my first book, now I find myself intentionally finding the time to sit and write about things I want to address.”

According to McKay, a word she is trying to approach this work with is Healing.

“Parts of writing these poems are difficult, emotional and sad. It can feel hopeless but I want it to end on a positive note,” she said. “A large part of this work is not speaking only to intergenerational trauma but also the healing of intergenerational trauma. My parents’ upbringings have come to affect me and will continue to affect all those who come after me. It is all intertwined and has an impact.

“I am writing a lot about the feelings surrounding the loss of my dad and leading up to his death. Writing has been cathartic and although it has been three years I still have moments when I realize how difficult it has been and still is. Sometimes I’m OK while other times it feels like he passed only yesterday. Writing about those things brings those feelings to the surface and I need to address them and sit in those feelings to complete this piece of work.”

When it comes to publishing more work, be it poetry or playwriting, McKay said it comes down to content.

“If I can produce enough content for a book focusing on a certain theme or topic, I would love to continue publishing. It all depends on what’s going on in my life. I may begin leaning more towards playwriting in the future because I have done well at that before and want to continue with that.”

McKay said she plans on having the book ready for early 2023.

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