Award-winning Nisga’a poet Jordan Abel’s third collection, Injun, is a long poem about racism and the representation of indigenous peoples. 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 erasure, pastiche, and a focused poetics to create a visually striking response to the western genre.
After compiling the online text of 91 of these now public-domain novels into one gargantuan document, Abel used his word processor’s “Find” function to search for the word “injun.” The 509 results were used as a study in context: How was this word deployed? What surrounded it? What was left over once that word was removed? Abel then cut up the sentences into clusters of three to five words and rearranged them into the long poem that is Injun. The book contains the poem as well as peripheral material that will help the reader to replicate, intuitively, some of the conceptual processes that went into composing the poem.
Though it has been phased out of use in our “post-racial” society, the word “injun” is peppered throughout pulp western novels. Injun retraces, defaces, and effaces the use of this word as a colonial and racial marker. While the subject matter of the source text is clearly problematic, the textual explorations in Injun help to destabilize the colonial image of the “Indian” in the source novels, the western genre as a whole, and the Western canon.
Jordan Abel is a Nisga’a writer currently completing his PhD at Simon Fraser University, where he is focusing 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, including Prairie Fire, Capilano Review, and Canadian Literature. He is an editor for Poetry Is Dead magazine and the former editor for PRISM international and Geist. Abel’s first book, The Place of Scraps (Talonbooks), was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Un/inhabited, Abel’s second book, was co-published by Project Space Press and Talonbooks.
CBC Books named Abel one of 12 young Writers to Watch (July 2015).
“Jordan Abel’s book of poetry, Injun, destabilizes Western texts and forces us to engage in a new conversation with the literature that has been a cornerstone for writers, readers, and critics for hundreds of years. … Injun is an artful exploration of the brutal colonialism that informs which voices are priviledged. … Injun isn’t just good; it is singular and essential.” —vallum
“In Injun, Abel carefully un-writes ninety-one Western novels in the public domain … While Injun is conceptually difficult and, indeed, demanding in the most productive of ways, the remarkably condensed, although potent, lines that Abel un-creates from within the body of such a disturbing collection of texts are demonstrative of his unique ability to converge conceptual, political, and affective registers seamlessly. … Injun recasts the book as a textual object … It is no wonder that Abel has received so much critical attention, as he is one of the most innovative and thrilling poets writing today.”
“The poet breaks words, even as lands and languages have been broken by colonial power. Fragmented and fugitive pieces lie at the heart of Injun. … Injun nevertheless has the same astonishing impact as his earlier work in re-establishing the presence of Indigenous culture against silence and absence. Techniques of collage and pastiche restore the margins, invert dichotomies of paleface and redskin, and rearrange legends, myths, and rituals. … Injun’s brackets alert us not only to what is enclosed, but also to what has escaped.”—Malahat Review