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Poet uses words to heal and comfort

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LITTLE RED RIVER CREE NATION, Alberta - Not a pastor nor a teacher nor a social worker, still the words offered by Roger Ross Ribbonleg have healing and soothing powers. Unlike the verbal messages of other counseling vocations, those statements he prepares for those who seek his advice are cast in pen.

An observer of people, Ribbonleg, 26, shares his gift of writing through poetry. Often witnessing the destructive behavior of substance abuse, as an outsider to the problem he can put into words the benefits of a cleaner lifestyle.

"I use my poetry to help other people in the community. I write it down so they can feel good about themselves," said Ribbonleg who has arranged verses for people on an individual basis. "If they're in need (and want) my help or guidance, they'll read it and understand what I was trying to say."

Of course the stigma associa ted with poetry is that the language is too flowery, too gushy to comprehend. Yes, Ribbonleg's work takes its readers on a journey but he doesn't write in metaphors nor are there convoluted messages. His language is simple though chosen, spiritual yet not specifically religious.

From his time at the elementary school in Fox Lake, Alberta, Ribbonleg has been encouraged to develop his writing skills. Five hundred miles northeast of Edmonton, this reserve is without road access and since Cree is widely spoken with few outside influences, Ribbonleg had to push himself to increase his English vocabulary, a task he took to earnest.

"My Grade 8 teacher said I should read more but I got tired of books so I picked up a dictionary, all kinds of dictionaries," he recalled about his beginnings.

Now the author of several hundred poems, Ribbonleg has one published book, "Seasons of Scattering," with a second compilation, "Honorable Tears," to be printed this fall. Published by 1st Books Library of Bloomington, Ind., Ribbonleg has prepared enough material for a third and fourth book when the time comes.

Seeing print however has been its own struggle.

"For five years I was looking for a publisher in Canada but they kept blowing me away saying I need qualifications," Ribbonleg said about his decision to eventually look south of the border for a publishing house. "1st Books establishes new authors and I thought 'Why not try them out?'"

When Ribbonleg is solicited to help others out of their alcoholic or drug-induced binges, what he attempts first is to get them to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds them and how to enjoy silence. Then he'll simplify poetry so that feelings can emerge.

"I'll let their inner sides come out and paint what they should get out of a poem," he said.

Like other writers, Ribbonleg seeks out quiet venues in which to open his mind and delve into his soul. On the pilgrimage by the Little Red River Cree Nation our conversation occurred in an open-air church, a similar setting he would seek out in Fox Lake. In an area surrounded by pine trees and water, the church is isolated when there aren't any services.

When asked what some of his favorite poems were, Ribbonleg was hard pressed for an answer. He excused himself for having to specifically remember one or two in particular because he's usually contemplating poems to compose in the future, not thinking of those he's written in the past. Finally recollecting after a couple of minutes, he chose "Gone Whispering of Love," a poem composed following the death of his grandfather two years ago. Used at the funeral service, it was these words that made him realize the significance of his talent.

"I'm proud and happy that I've established my dream but I'm also more proud of helping people and giving advice for those in need," Ribbonleg said.

"Seasons of Scattering" can be ordered online at www.1stbooks.com.