Cooper Skjeie (/shay/) is a Saskatoon-based poet, educator, and consultant of mixed settler and Métis ancestry. An MFA candidate at the University of British Columbia, he is a graduate of the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program and an alumnus of the Banff Centre’s Emerging Writers’ Intensive and Sage Hill Poetry Course. In 2020, he won first place in the Saskatoon Indigenous Poets Society Slam Invitational and third prize in the Short Grain Contest for Poetry. He has twice been shortlisted for the Pacific Spirit Poetry Prize, and two of his poems were shortlisted for The Malahat Review’s 2023 Open Season Awards. His poems appear in Prairie Fire Magazine, The Mamawi Project Zine, and Augur Magazine, among others.
Cooper writes lyric and experimental poetry, dabbling occasionally in other forms. Métis identity, colonialism, grief, agitation, and the prairies are key subjects in his writing. His major poetic influences are Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Billy-Ray Belcourt, and Canisia Lubrin.
I did not willingly read any poetry in high school, and from what I remember, it was seldom that we read any in the classroom. That said, there is one poem that marked me from an ELA class in grade 11. Unfortunately, I can’t recall the name of the work or its author. It was a contemporary poem that was a lot like Eugene Field’s “Little Boy Blue” in essence.
I wrote song lyrics on and off after I finished high school in 2011–mostly off, but it was still something of an early encounter I had with creative writing. It wasn’t until the summer of 2018 that I began to commit to a poetry practice. I largely kept it to myself that I was writing, and if I was vocal about it at all, I’d say I was someone that wrote poetry rather than declaring myself a poet. I was ambivalent about that noun for some time–I still am some days–but 2019 was a turning point in terms of my creative confidence. I had a poem accepted for publication and soon found myself amidst an incredible circle of poets and writers who saw me and my work as doing something. Since then, a sustained writing practice and community connection has helped me feel right in thinking of myself as a poet, despite impostor syndrome still rearing its ugly head from time to time.
I believe poetry to be a project of self-making and relationality–how one understands themselves and how they relate to the world. I see the job requiring one to be attentive, to listen, witness, interrogate, and testify. I think, if done right, the poet will have shined light on something we may have otherwise missed. They will have offered us a language needed to unravel, encapsulate, and make clear, and they will have crafted something that is in service of building a world better than the one we have currently.
from Exhibits from the American Water Museum by Natalie Diaz