Award-winning Nisga’a poet Jordan Abel’s second collection of poetry, Un/inhabited, maps the terrain of the public domain to create a layered investigation of the interconnections between language and land.
Abel constructed the book’s source text by compiling in their entirety ninety-one western novels found on the website Project Gutenberg, an online archive of works whose copyright has expired. Using his word processor’s Ctrl-F function, he searched the compilation for words that relate to the political and social aspects of land, territory, and ownership. Each search query represents a study in context (How was this word deployed? What surrounded it? What is left over once that word is removed?) accumulating toward a representation of the public domain as a discoverable and inhabitable body of land.
Featuring a text by independent curator Kathleen Ritter – the first piece of scholarship on Abel’s work – Un/inhabited reminds us of the power of language as material and invites us to reflect on what is present in the empty space when we see nothing.
Jordan Abel is a Nisga’a writer from Vancouver. His debut poetry collection, The Place of Scraps (Talonbooks, 2013), was awarded the BC Book Prizes’ Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. Abel is an editor for Poetry Is Dead magazine and the former poetry editor for PRISM international and Geist. He holds an MFA from the University of British Columbia and a BA from the University of Alberta. His work has been published in journals and magazines across Canada, including CV2, The Capilano Review, Prairie Fire, dANDelion, ARC Poetry Magazine, Descant, Broken Pencil, OCW Magazine, filling Station, Grain, and Canadian Literature. His chapbooks Scientia and Injun have been published by above/ground press and JackPine Press, respectively.
“This is a compelling and difficult text, one whose political resonance is made all the more evident by the ambiguities that pervade it. … Abel mounts a (sometimes wry) challenge to the representation of Indigenous peoples in Westerns, but his poetic practice is also in line with other recent works of experimental poetry … the text which is the source of violence is also the wellspring of resistance, anger, reclamation, and hope. … what is most interesting about Un/inhabited is the ambiguity that complicates the more obvious metaphors linking text with land and reading with resource extraction.” —Canadian Literature
“At once graphic art, anti-poetry, a trace history of reading, and sociological groundwork, Un/inhabited is something entirely new that defies easy categorization or description. This is art working its hardest edge to build an understanding of how our present and past continue to shape and reshape each other.”
– Shane Rhodes
“He pokes holes into these frontier stories – revealing the sublimated horror in their comic gothic conventions. This isn’t conceptual writing so much as foundational writing. Defoundational. Unsettling. He graphically strip-mines texts – interrupts their ideology, and asks you to fill in – suture – the blanks. Rush into this necessary, (de)literary landscape.”
– Gregory Betts