Q&A: Jordan Abel on Injun
by Anna Bowen, July 2017
Jordan Abel is a Nisga’a writer completing his PhD in digital humanities and indigenous poetics at Simon Fraser University. He is the 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize winner for his 2017 collection, Injun (Talonbooks 2017). Abel is also the author of poetry collections Un/inhabited (2014) and Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize winning The Place of Scraps (Talonbooks, 2013). Injun destabilizes colonial images of “Indians” in a 10,000-page source text of pulp westerns published from the mid-1800s to mid-1900s by “retracing, defacing and effacing” the use of the word through cutups, examining racism and representation of Indigenous peoples. Jordan’s work has been published in Prairie Fire, EVENT, dANDelion, ARC, CV2, The Capilano Review, Descant, Grain, and Canadian Literature, and in chapbooks with JackPine Press and above/ground press. He is a former editor at Geist and PRISM International and is currently an editor with Poetry is Dead. I caught up with Jordan last week from the CFRU studio in Guelph. Jordan was in Robson, BC.
MW: When did you start to experiment with cutups?
JA: I became really interested in [cutups] during my undergrad degree when I started reading Brion Gysin and William Burroughs. I thought there was a lot of depth in that particular technique and it was something I was always curious about.
MW: How did the process of writing Injun differ from your previous collection, Un/inabited?
JA: Un/inhabited and Injun are part of the same project, just with very different outcomes… For Injun, the main difference is I was really interested in responding conceptually to this corpus of western novels, but I was almost interested in responding lyrically. And those two processes together were quite a departure from my previous book-length works … When I went to write the long poem that is “Injun”, one of the things I concentrated on when I was doing the cutups was finding ways to link things together through sound. I was interested in how language sounded when it came together in kind of unusual ways.
MW: Were there certain couplings or things that came out in that long poem that surprised you?
JA: All of it was surprising, actually… when I’m literally taking a page and taking a pair of scissors and letting the pieces fall together, a lot of those combinations are surprising. That was a feeling I was really interested in holding on to and tapping into. I was also hopeful that other people would be surprised at how those things came together.
MW: How do you see the literary landscape for Indigenous writers in Canada?
JA: So often Indigenous writers get forgotten about, or they fly under the radar – especially the poets. There are so many interesting, important Indigenous poets who are doing amazing work that very few people read or recognize and to me that is really disappointing. And there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of honoring and celebrating and reading Indigenous writers. And I think that is actually really important in the face of Canada 150. Other people have said this but I’ll say it again here: Canada 150 is a celebration of colonialism and Indigenous genocide and is deeply problematic. This year in particular, it is really important to find ways to resist — and one of the ways we can do that is by investing in the work of Indigenous artists.