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Interviews, Recommendations, and More

The Chat: A Griffin Poetry Prize Special With Canadian Finalist Jordan Abel

The next installment of our 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize special edition of The Chat features our conversation with Jordan Abel, author of the collection Injun.


The next installment of our 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize special edition of The Chat features our conversation with Jordan Abel, author of the collection Injun.

Of the collection, the jury writes: “Jordan Abel’s collection Injun evacuates the subtexts of possession, territory, and erasure. Lyric, yes: ‘that   part   of sparkling / kn   ife love that // hates   the trouble of rope / and the   letters / of tow   ns.’ Testimony of another kind, too: ‘all misdeeds at the milk   house / all heap   shoots by the sagebrush // all the grub   is somewhere / down in the hungry bellies […]’. The fog of tedious over-dramatization clears and the open skies of discourse can be discerned. What does it mean to arrange hate to look like verse? What becomes of the ugly and meaningless? Words are restored to their constituent elements as countermovements in Abel’s hands, just as they are divested of their capacity for productive violence. The golden unity of language and its silvered overcoding erode, bringing to bear the ‘heard snatches of comment / going up from the river bank.’ To pixelize is to mobilize, not to disappear.”

Jordan Abel is a Nisga’a writer currently completing his PhD at Simon Fraser University, where he focuses on digital humanities and Indigenous poetics. Abel’s conceptual writing engages with the representation of indigenous peoples in anthropology and popular culture. His chapbooks have been published by JackPine Press, and above/ground press, and his work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals across Canada. He is an editor for Poetry is Dead magazine and a former editor for PRISM International and Geist. Abel’s first book, The Place of Scraps, was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Abel’s second book, Un/inhabited was published in 2014. CBC Books named Abel one of 12 Young Writers to Watch (2015).



Trevor Corkum: Congrats on being a finalist for this year’s Griffin Prize, Jordan. How does that recognition feel at this point in your career?

Jordan Abel: Good.

Actually, totally unreal and unfathomable and overwhelming and scary and wonderful and bewildering. 

But also good.

TC: The collection is composed of text found in Western novels published between 1840 and 1950—the heyday of pulp publishing and a period of unfettered colonialism in North America.” Injun then uses pastiche and erasure to speak back against the Western genre. How was the work born? Where did you draw inspiration?

JA: This book really started with a moment for me. I was in Calgary at some point when I was in high school and I ended up going to the Stampede. And there were all these people dressed up like cowboys. I remember thinking that I could never do that. And then I remember wondering if Indians were even allowed to dress up like cowboys. After that moment I started to actually think about why the Western genre was so problematic for Indigenous peoples.

And there were all these people dressed up like cowboys. I remember thinking that I could never do that. And then I remember wondering if Indians were even allowed to dress up like cowboys.

TC: How would you define or describe your poetic practice, to someone who isn’t familiar with you work?   

JA: So, I’d describe it like this:

My writing/poetry uses the tools and methodologies of conceptualism to engage with Indigenous issues and to critique settler writing. 

I mean ... that’s kind of clumsy. But I hesitate to identify as a conceptual writer even though I often deploy conceptual ideas in my work. 

Maybe it’s more accurate to describe my writing as Nisga’a work? Except that I don’t necessarily centre my work around Nisga’a knowledges, understandings, and worldviews. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that my writing comes from a particular position within Indigeneity (I’m an intergenerational survivor of residential schools and urban Indigenous person), and I use a variety of lyric and conceptual techniques in an attempt to speak to/about that positionality.

TC: What’s your own litmus test for exceptional and important poetry?

As a scholar, I find myself being less and less interested in the exceptional, and instead more interested in finding ways to look at everything. Here, I think the exceptional and the important can really just be other names for the canon. And I’m totally down for thinking outside of the canon.

 As a writer, I’m really interested in writing stuff that seems both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. I’m interested in finding unconventional ways to put conventional things together. I hate to be bored by my own writing. If I can read something a few days, a few months, a few years after I’ve written it and still feel a little surprised at how things come together then I tend to be pretty happy.

If I can read something a few days, a few months, a few years after I’ve written it and still feel a little surprised at how things come together then I tend to be pretty happy.

TC: You’re currently completing a PhD at Simon Fraser University in digital humanities and Indigenous poetics. Can you tell us more about your research, and the ways in which your academic and creative pursuits intersect and inform one another?  

For sure. Right now I’m working on distant reading project that focuses on a corpus that comprises all of the Indigenous poetry published in Canada. That’s the starting point/idea anyway. And as far as ideas go, I kind of dig it. For me, the issue is that there is really not a whole lot of scholarship out there on Indigenous poetry/poets. I mean, there’s some. And the stuff that’s out there is fantastic. But, to be honest, I was a bit crushed to find that some of my favourite Indigenous poets who have published substantively in Canada have received very little scholarly attention. When I started digging further, I realize that there were dozens and dozens of Indigenous poets who have more or less never really been talked about. At that point, it became very hard to justify a dissertation project that just focused on a few Indigenous poets or one particular coterie. Instead, I was really interested in thinking about what it might look like to attempt to address Indigenous poetry as a whole. Naturally, I’ve run into numerous theoretical and practical road blocks. It’s a bigger project than I realistically should have taken on.

But, to be honest, I was a bit crushed to find that some of my favourite Indigenous poets who have published substantively in Canada have received very little scholarly attention.

Ed. After the following excerpt from Injun, please see what Jordan calls "the somewhat incomplete list of Indigenous poetry published in Canada."






he heard snatches of comment
going up from the river bank

all them injuns is people first
and besides for this buckskin

why we even shoot at them
and seems like a sign of warm

dead as a horse friendship
and time to pedal their eyes

to lean out and say the truth3
all you injuns is just white keys


he played injun in gods country
where boys proved themselves clean

dumb beasts who could cut fire
out of the whitest1 sand

he played english across the trail
where girls turned plum wild

garlic and strained words
through the window of night

he spoke through numb lips and
breathed frontier2

Copyright © 2016 Jordan Abel


Indigenous Poets, Collections, and Publishers of Indigenous Poetry*

Abel, Jordan

Injun (Talonbooks, 2016)

The Place of Scraps (Talonbooks, 2013) 

Un/inhabited (Talonbooks & Project Space, 2015)

Akiwenzie-Damm, Kateri

My Heart Is a Stray Bullet (Kegedonce Press, 2002) 

ed. Without Reservation: Indigenous Erotica (Kegedonce, 2003)

Arluk, Reneltta: Thoughts and Other Human Tendencies (Bookland)

Armstrong, Jeannette: Breath Tracks (Williams-Wallace Publishers, 1991)

Arnott, Joanne

A Night for the Lady. (Ronsdale Press, 2013)

Halfling Spring: An Internet Romance (Neyaashiinigmiing: Kegedonce Press, 2013)

Mother Time: Poems New & Selected (Ronsdale Press, 2007)

My Grass Cradle. (Press Gang Publishers, 1992) .

Steepy Mountain: Love Poetry. (Neyaashiinigmiing: Kegedonce Press, 2004) 

Wiles of Girlhood. (Press Gang Publishers, 1991)

Bacon, Joséphine

Baker, Marie Annharte

AKA Inendagosekwe. (CUE, 2013)

Being on the Moon (Polestar Press, 1990)

Coyote Columbus Cafe (Moonprint Press, 1994)

Exercises in Lip Pointing (New Star Books, 2003)

Indigena Awry (New Star Books, 2012)

Benway, Gwen

Ceremonies for the Dead (Kegedonce)

Passage (Kegedonce, 2016)

Bird-Wilson, Lisa: The Red Files (Nightwood Editions, 2016)

Bordeleau, Virginia Pésémapéo

Bose, Chris

A Moon made of Copper (Kegedonce Press, 2014)

Stone the Crow (Kegedonce Press, 2009)

Bouvier, Rita

Blueberry Clouds (Thistledown Press)

Nakamowin'sa for the seasons (Thistledown Press)

Papîyâhtak (Thistledown Press)

Bruce, Sykros: Kalala Poems (1972)

Chester, Bruce: Paper Radio.

Coocoo, Charles:Broderies Sur Moccasins (Chicoutimi: Editions JCL, 1988)

Cuthand, Beth: Voices in the Waterfall (New ed. Theytus Books, 1992)

Dandurand, Joseph A: Looking into the Eyes of my Forgotten Dreams (Cape Croker: Kegedonce, 1998). 

Deerchild, Rosanna

Calling Down the Sky (BookLand, 2015) 

This Is a Small Northern Town (Muses Co, 2008)

Dumont, Marilyn

A Really Good Brown Girl (Brick Books, 1996)

Green Girl Dreams Mountains (Oolichan Books, 2001)

The Pemmican Eaters: Poems (ECW Press, 2015)

that tongued belonging (Kegedonce Press, 2007)

Fife, Connie

Beneath the Naked Sun. (Sister Vision Press, 1992)

Speaking Through Jagged Rock (1999)

Poems for a New World  (2001) 

Fontaine, Natasha Kanapé

Francis, Marvin

Bush Camp. (Turnstone Press, 2008)

City Treaty (Turnstone Press, 2002) 

Gill, Marie-Andrée

Gottfriedson, Garry.

Chaos Inside Thunderstorms (Ronsdale Press, 2014)

Deaf Heaven (Ronsdale, 2016)

Glass Tepee (Thistledown Press, 2002)

Skin Like Mine (Ronsdale Press, 2010)

Whiskey Bullets: Cowboy and Indian Heritage Poems (Ronsdale Press, 2006)

Groulx, David

A Difficult Beauty (Wolsak and Wynn, 2011)

Imagine Mercy (BookLand Press, 2013)

The Long Dance (Kegedonce Press, 2000)

Rising with a Distant Dawn (BookLand Press, 2011)

Under God's Pale Bones: Poems. (Kegedonce Press, 2010)

Halfe, Louise

Bear Bones & Feathers (Coteau Books, 1994)

Blue Marrow (McClelland & Stewart, 1988) 

Burning in this Midnight Dream (Coteau Books, 2016)

The Crooked Good: Sky Dancer (Coteau Books, 2007)

Harris, Heather: Rainbow Dancer (Caitlin Press, 1999)

Howard, Liz: Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent (McLelland and Stewart, 2015) 

Hunter, Al

Beautiful Razor: Love Poems & Other Lies (Kegedonce Press, 2012)

The Recklessness of Love: Bawajiganan Gaye Ni-Maanedam (Kegedonce Press, 2008)

Spirit Horses (Kegedonce Press, 2002)

Joe, Rita

Lnu and Indians we'Re Called  (Ragweed, 1991)

Poems of Rita Joe (Abanaki Press, 1978)

Song of Eskasoni: More Poems of Rita Joe (Ragweed Press, 1988)

We are the Dreamers: Recent and Early Poetry (Breton Books, 1999)

John-Kehewin, Wanda: In the Dog House (Talonbooks, 2013)

Johnson, E. Pauline

Canadian Born (George N. Morang, 1903)

Flint and Feather (I.P.A.C.S, 1912)

In the Shadows (Adirondack, 1898)

“When George was King" and Other Poems (Brockville Times, 1908)

The White Wampum (J. Lane, 1895)

Joudrey, Shalan: Generations Re/Merging (Gaspereau Press, 2014)

Keeshig, Lenore: Running on the March Wind (Quattro, 2015)

Keon, Wayne

My Sweet Maize (The Mercury Press, 1997)

Storm Dancer: Poems (Mercury Press, 1993)

Sweetgrass 2 (Toronto, ON: The Mercury Press, 1990)

Kenny, George: Indians Don’t Cry. (NC Press Limited, 1982)

Kirton, Jonina: Page as Bone – Ink as Blood (Talonbooks, 2015)

Kistabish, RichardAki (Conseil Algonquin de l’Ouest du Quebec, 1986)

Koyczan, Shane

I Drew That For you

I'm Calling You Friend

Help Wanted

Our Death Beds Will Be Thirsty


Visiting Ours

Maracle, Lee

Bent Box (Theytus Books, 2000)

Talking to the Diaspora (ARP, 2016) 

Marshall, Lindsay Clay Pots and Bones

McLeod, Neal

Gabriel's Beach (Hagios Press, 2008) 

Songs to Kill a Wîhtikow (Hagios Press, 2005)

Mercredi, Duncan

Dreams of the Wolf in the City (Pemmican, 1992)

Spirit of the Wolf (Pemmican, 1991)

Wolf and Shadows (Pemmican Publications)

Mestokosho, Rita

Morgan, Cara-Lyn: What Became My Grieving Ceremony (Thistledown Press)

Morse, Garry Thomas

After Jack (Talonbooks, 2010)

Death in Vancouver (Talonbooks, 2009)

Discover Passages (Talonbooks, 2011)

Prairie Harbour (Talonbooks, 2015)

streams (LINEbooks, 2007)

The Untitled 1–13 & Transversals for Orpheus (Line Books, 2006)

Moses, Daniel David

Delicate Bodies (Blewointment, 1980)

Sixteen Jesuses (Exile Editions, 2000)

The White Line: Poems (Fifth House, 1990)

Nolin, Manon

Norman, Howard (gathered and translated by): The Wishing Bone Cycle: Narrative Poems from the Swampy Cree Indians

Paul, Philip Kevin

Little Hunger: Poems (Nightwood Editions 2008)

Taking the names down from the hill (Nightwood Editions, 2003)

Picard-Sioui, Louis-Karl

Proulx-Turner, Sharron

she is reading her blanket with her hands (Fronetnac House, 2008) 

she walks for days inside a thousand eyes: a two-spirit story (Turnstone Press, 2008)

The trees are still bending south (Kegedonce, 2012)

what the aunts say (McGilligan, 2002)

Riel, Louis: The Collected Writings (University of Alberta Press, 1985)

Rogers, Janet

Peace in Duress (Talonbooks, 2014)

Red Erotic: Indigenous Erotica in Pictures and Words (Ojistah Publishing, 2010)

Totem Poles and Railroads (ARP, 2016)

unearthed (Leaf Press, 2011)

Ruffo, Armand Garnet

At Geronimo's Grave (Coteau Books, 2001)

Grey Owl: The Mystery of Archie Belaney (Coteau Books, 1996)

Opening in the Sky (Theytus Books Ltd, 1994)

The Thunderbird Poems (Harbour Publishing, 2015)

Scofield, Gregory

The Gathering: Stones for the Medicine Wheel (Polestar Press Ltd, 1993)

I Knew Two Metis Women: The Lives of Dorothy Scofield and Georgina Houle Young (Polestar Book Publishers, 1999)

Kipocihkân: Poems New and Selected (Nightwood Editions, 2009)

Louis: The Heretic Poems (Nightwood Editions, 2011)

Love Medicine and One Song: Sâkihtowin-Maskihkiy Êkwa Pêyak-Nikamowin (Polestar, 1997)

Native Canadiana: Songs from the Urban Rez (Polestar Book Publishers, 1996)

Singing Home the Bones (Polestar, 2005)

Witness, I Am (Nightwood, 2016)

Sewell, Anna Marie: Fifth World Drum (Frontenac House, 2009)

Simpson, Leanne: Islands of Decolonial Love: Stories & Songs (Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2013)

Sioui, Eleonore: Andatha (Editions Hyperboree, 1985)

Sioui, Jean

Poemes Rouges (Le Loup de Gouttiere, 2004)

Le Pas de L’indien, Pensees Wendates (Le Loup de Gouttiere, 2005)

L’avenir Voit Rouge (Ecrits des Forges, 2008)

Snow, TJ: I do not know this story (Housepress, 1998)

Starr, Kinnie: How I Learned to Run (House of Parlance, 2008)

Stump, Sarain: There Is My People Sleeping (Gray’s Publishing, 1970)

Vermette, Katherena: North End Love Songs (Muses Co, 2008) 

Wagamese, Richard: Runaway Dreams (Ronsdale, 2011)

Webb-Campbell, Shannon: Still No Word (Breakwater Books, 2015)


*Please contact Jordan via his publisher, Talonbooks, for any questions related to the list.

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