How would the poem change if Belcourt named the Cree girls in "Gay Incantations"?
Belcourt doesn’t name the Cree girls in “Gay Incantations,” so they can represent the need to remember the experiences of all Cree people. He also references unnamed Cree girls in other works, such as “Cree Girl Explodes the Necropolis of Ottowa.” In this poem, a Cree girl frees herself from a world tainted by colonialism. Without a name, she represents the hope that all Cree people can one day do the same.
In Billy-Ray Belcourt’s award-winning poem “Gay Incantations,” the speaker says they gave birth to a woman who is “four Cree girls between the ages of 10 and 14 from / northern saskatchewan.” This poem would have a different effect on the reader if the speaker had named these Cree girls.
On one hand, by not naming the Cree girls Belcourt highlights how the experiences of general Cree people are too often overlooked. Naming the girls would not have underlined this issue because it would have implied that individual Cree legacies are commonly preserved.
Not naming the Cree girls also allows other indigenous readers to connect more deeply to this work. It also lets the speaker connect to them. Note how Belcourt switches from the pronoun “I” in “i gave birth to a woman” to the pronoun “she” to describe the Cree girl, to the pronoun “we” in “we are a home movie.” Here Belcourt joins the speaker's experience as someone from the Driftpile Cree Nation with the experience of others from the nation. Naming the girl would have restricted this fluidity, limiting the speaker's connection to one other person instead of the nation as a whole.
Belcourt refers to unnamed Cree girls in other poems as well. For example, in his poem “Cree Girl Explodes the Necropolis of Ottowa,” the speaker imagines a short film in which an unnamed Cree girl obliterates herself and is “born anew.” By not naming this Cree girl, Belcourt allows the reader to imagine a future in which all Cree people construct their own worlds that are free from colonial legacies.
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