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Poetry Canadian

The Place of Scraps

by (author) Jordan Abel

Initial publish date
Sep 2013
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2013
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George Ryga Award for Social Award: Jordan Abel, The Place of Scraps (Finalist)
BC Book Prize, Poetry: Jordan Abel, The Place of Scraps (Winner)

The Place of Scraps revolves around Marius Barbeau, an early-twentieth-century ethnographer, who studied many of the First Nations cultures in the Pacific Northwest, including Jordan Abel’s ancestral Nisga’a Nation. Barbeau, in keeping with the popular thinking of the time, believed First Nations cultures were about to disappear completely, and that it was up to him to preserve what was left of these dying cultures while he could. Unfortunately, his methods of preserving First Nations cultures included purchasing totem poles and potlatch items from struggling communities in order to sell them to museums. While Barbeau strove to protect First Nations cultures from vanishing, he ended up playing an active role in dismantling the very same cultures he tried to save.



Drawing inspiration from Barbeau’s canonical book Totem Poles, Jordan Abel explores the complicated relationship between First Nations cultures and ethnography. His poems simultaneously illuminate Barbeau’s intentions and navigate the repercussions of the anthropologist’s actions.

Through the use of erasure techniques, Abel carves out new understandings of Barbeau’s writing – each layer reveals a fresh perspective, each word takes on a different connotation, each letter plays a different role, and each punctuation mark rises to the surface in an unexpected way. As Abel writes his way ever deeper into Barbeau’s words, he begins to understand that he is much more connected to Barbeau than he originally suspected.

About the author

Jordan Abel is a Nisga'a writer from Vancouver. He is the author of The Place of Scraps (winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize), Un/inhabited, and Injun (winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize). Abel's latest project NISHGA (forthcoming from McClelland & Stewart in 2020) is a deeply personal and autobiographical book that attempts to address the complications of contemporary Indigenous existence and the often invisible intergenerational impact of residential schools. Abel recently completed a PhD at Simon Fraser University, and is currently working as an Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta.

Jordan Abel's profile page


  • Winner, Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize (B.C. Book Prizes)
  • Short-listed, Gerald Lampert Memorial Award

Editorial Reviews

“With his breakout collection of visual poetry, … Abel conjures the near impossible: a heartbreaking history lesson, both personal and public, mixed with lyricism, intelligence, humour, and cold-eyed facts. This narrative of the misguided, good-hearted Marius Barbeau and what he did with First Nations cultural icons will be a revelation for many. What Abel takes from language is what gives it form and strength: a more apt use of plunder verse I cannot imagine.”
– Carolyn Smart


“English litters the sky, its typed letters eventually demolished into illegible insects that flit above archival photo-testimony to land/people. […] A surprising and necessary book of poetry, The Place of Scraps is as humbly unstoppable as the next breath you take in and release back out to the world.”
– Rita Wong


"Abel subverts the museological gaze that steals, deadens, and imprisons totem poles, thereby disappearing the Indigenous peoples who consider totem poles an integral part of their knowledge systems and cultures"—Lindsay Nixon, All Lit Up


“This is art of the concept, used to unmake language so that language may live.” – Wayde Compton


“… astonishingly inventive […] Abel’s writing constantly dazzles and rewards with its linguistic playfulness and conceptual sophistication.” – Adam Dickinson

~||~ “With sustained attention, serious criticism, and generous respect, Jordan Abel has latched onto the extraordinary luck of lack.” – Craig Dworkin~||~

“an anthropology of anthropology[,] done as only a[n Aboriginal/Indigenous] poet could do.” – Ray Hsu


“…[Abel] reinvents poetry as a plastic art. He is not concerned with finding his own words. … He simultaneously scraps Barbeau’s discourse and conserves it, seizing control of its rules and turning them to new purposes. Ingeniously, his imagetexts pass the work of sculpture on to a reader who reads, and rereads, in three dimensions.”
– Christopher Bracken

“… Abel’s textual erasures and collisions manage, all at once, to viscerally enact losses, give voice to silenced histories, make plain the bonds between curation and colonization, reveal cascading ironies, amplify the commentary of mosquitos. Abel is a master carver of the page.”
– Susan Holbrook

“Like its source, Scraps deploys linguistic and visual systems of representation to record First Nations history but unlike its source, it reveals anthropology as a colonial weapon in its creative distillation of Barbeau’s ethnography.”

“Abel employs the technique of erasure, and in some cases gets a poem down to punctuation, forming a cloud of tiny marks, reminiscent of fireflies or mosquitoes. The use of blank space on most pages is remarkable, opening up the possibility of a wide array of thought and feeling regarding what has happened to First Nations culture. And on pages filled with images and letters, the same opportunity is paradoxically presented. […] The concept of carving connects objects – the wood of the [totem] poles and the spoon – and words or images carved out of Barbeau’s work by Abel’s imagination. And one carves out a life of surrounding matter. Or possibly one is carved out of life.”
Coastal Spectator

“… Abel has broken up Barbeau’s text to be examined like any other artifact for its clues of the workings, interactions and exchanges, and contradictions between settler society and Aboriginal society. Yet the ‘burden of interpretation’ that Abel places on his reader is worth the effort, for there are many moments of insight and beauty …”
– Eric Ostrowidzki

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