Poetry Muse: Daniel Lockhart + Go Down Odawa Way
Poetry Muse kicks off with Daniel Lockhart, author of Go Down Odawa Way (Kegedonce Press). D.A Lockhart describes his poetry collection as "history decolonized turned lyric, left to sing of and celebrate what is given to us by our history and our collective survival".
Read on for our Q&A with Lockhart in which he shares with us how he was inspired when he started writing this poetry collection, why he started writing poetry, and which music inspires him when he starts writing poetry. Plus, read the poem "Owashtanong Carries Namegos Overland" from his collection, below.See more details below
Who is your muse?
Creation inspires me. Living in the industrial flats that often comprise contemporary Waawiiyaatanong (Windsor,ON-Detroit,MI) I am constantly inspired by the natural world’s way to survive. It’s been a factor of hope for me as a Lenape to see kahpaxe (sturgeon) and opalaine (bald eagle) return to the area. For non-Indigenous folks this is the equivalent of seeing your long-lost relations returning. The resultant poems or essays or stories amount to small celebrations of the ongoing existence of Creation and its countless gifts. These are the metaphors and instances I return to. I sing to them in morning to greet them, like my ancestors did. And in the evening, I give thanksgiving songs. It is important to both honour and feed one’s muse.
What inspired you when you started writing your poetry collection? And what is your creative process when you begin writing?
This particular collection started while I was in Lansing, Michigan for a conference. The Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature to be precise about the conference. I was there to talk about my book the Gravel Lot that Was Montana, processes that led that collection, and the ways that Midwestern writers can decolonize their works. I recognized in the quiet time between events and the like (Lansing in early summer is fairly quiet) that the city continues to have a very active natural side. Walking around the core of the city brought questions of origins as I walked around, listening and feeling the city breath beneath me. The physical connection with the spaces became important as I realized that the Indigenous has never left these spaces. I took that process back to the shores of Waawiiyatanong (Windsor-Detroit) and rediscovered small waterways and the physical spaces that inhabit this book. Go Down Odawa Way has become an accounting for this time. I found complications, that all history here is fundamentally Indigenous. You could say that this is a lyric written record of the lands that have remained Indigenous since time immemorial.
When did you start writing poetry and why did you choose to write poetry over other forms of literature?
While I first took to writing in high school, it really wasn’t until my undergraduate experience at Montana State University that I really formed the rituals/habits and mindset to write. It really is difficult not be inspired in a place that inspired Norman MacLean, James Welch, Wallace Stegner, and Richard Hugo. Poetry became the primary vehicle for my work during this time. I have to say that this came out of a fledgling community of poets at Montana State University. And out of a love of song and sound. While I had been primarily interested in novels and fiction, it was the guidance of professor Greg Keeler and some of my fellow students that I found myself being more drawn to poetry. Indiana University cemented this connection to poetry for me. Poetry faculty and visiting poets really encouraged me to continue writing and submitting poems to journals. This despite my fiction major and fellowship in the MFA program. And perhaps because of all of that, I’ve found poetry my most natural suit when it comes to writing. I had a lot earlier publishing successes with the form. And success definite bred affinity. I return to it daily. So, you could say it has become a habit.
How would you describe your poetry collection?
Indigenous decolonial lyric poetry from Three-Fires Territory. These poems and this collection are all early steps at decolonizing the history and spaces of Waawiiyaatanong. It does not erase what is not consideration Indigenous in the western way of looking at things, but instead reaches out to those non-traditional aspects of life in this region. Freeways are spiderweb lifelines. Oft forgotten creek rivers have their old names returned and are left to speak for themselves. Basketball players become warriors for a region. This collection acts a historical reconnection and declaration of the Indigenous presence and growth in the contemporary world. Go Down Odawa Way is history decolonized turned lyric, left to sing of and celebrate what is given to us by our history and our collective survival.
What advice would you give to aspiring poets?
Read three times more than you write. It’s the equivalent of listening in the literary world. If one cannot place themselves in the grand conversation that is the ongoing process of literature and writing, then one must have difficulty calling themselves a writer proper. Without engaging with other writers, those around you and those that have come before, you are little more than a fool howling nonsense into the wind. Also buy books. Buy books of living writers that you admire. They need some bread and one day when you are standing where they are in the literary scene you will need the same. Be a good community member.
Are there any poets or poetry collections that you admire?
I have currently been burning through Jim Harrison’s Complete Poems (Copper Canyon, 2021). Which I realize is a complete cop-out because it is literally every poem written by this contemporary literary giant. In the same vein has been Laurence Hutchman’s Swimming Towards the Sun (Guernica, 2020). These are two poets from the two countries border that I straddle doing the things in these books that comprise a career. Very different poets, to be sure. But they are doing the sort of work that tends to last. I do constantly return to Richard Hugo’s Lady in the Kicking Horse Reservoir, James Welch’s Riding the Earthboy 40, and Philip Levine’s The Misery.
Does music inspire you when you start writing poetry?
It does. And it actually often informs the totality of the poems and on occasion the complete collections. This has included poems that speak to musicians and songs from Lightning Hopkins to Eminem to Redbone. Specifically, for Go Down Odawa Way there is a reference to African American spirituals, Frank Sinatra, Glen Frey, Broken Bells, and most notably Bob Seger. Ending the collection is a piece that is constructed around the classic Night Moves track by Seger. For inspiration for this collection, I spent a lot of time with Apollo Brown’s Sincerely Detroit and Curtis Mayfield’s There is No Place like America Today.
A poem from Go Down Odawa Way
Owashtanong Carries Namegos Overland
Run serpentine through midland hills
past shuttered car part plants, beneath
long neglected bridge ways, soft grass
shores that lead back to small plot
gardens, fire pits, fulfilled promises
of multi-generational home ownership.
Settlers come to a land that forced old
ways from the Odawa people, ignited
three-fires of a nation fresh enough
to greet and chase Iroquois from here.
Through the soft meander, slowed
by fish ladders and long-dead power
plants, witness this slow determination
as creation moves inland. Namegos, sky
as laid out by Nanabush’s straight path
to ancestors speckled across vibrating
flesh, traverses bled-through marshes
and straight-shot meanders, each pump
of tail and fin the determination settler
death and arrival means less than each
home built and factory torn down. Though
men claiming dominion will come
to pass like thirteen moons and mark
the folly newcomers bring in belief
that creation would be shaped by them.
Namegos will run inland and the waters,
our waters, shall seep past exposed earth.
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D.A. Lockhart is the author of eight collections of poetry, including Devil in the Woods (Brick Books 2019) and Tukhone: Where the River Narrows and the Shores Bend (Black Moss Press 2020). His work has appeared in Best Canadian Poetry in English 2019, TriQuarterly, ARC Poetry Magazine, Grain, Belt, and the Malahat Review among many. He is a Turtle Clan member of Eelünaapéewi Lahkéewiit (Lenape), a registered member of the Moravian of the Thames First Nation, and currently resides at the south shore of Waawiiyaatanong (Windsor,ON-Detroit, MI) and Pelee Island.
Devil in the Woods (Brick Books, 2019)
The Gravel Lot that Was Montana (Mansfield Press 2018)
Breaking Right: Stories (Porcupine’s Quill 2020)
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During the month of April, you can buy Go Down Odawa Way and any one of our other featured Poetry Express books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada with promo code ALUPOETRYMUSE. Or find them at your local independent bookstore!
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