A recent winner of the notable Canadian 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize, Jordan Abel's
Injun (Talonbooks) explores the representation of Indigenous peoples during the heyday of pulp publishing, specifically between 1840 and 1950, in a long-form poem. Read on for more about the book, and the artist which Canadian Literature calls "one of the most innovative and thrilling poets writing today."
Award-winning Nisga’a poet Jordan Abel’s third collection, Injun, complements the projects of erasure, context, and reclamation he commenced in
The Place of Scraps (2013) and
Un/inhabited (2015). For Injun, Abel searched the website Project Gutenberg, an online archive of works whose copyright has expired, for western-genre novels published between 1840 and 1950, the heyday of pulp publishing and a period of unfettered colonialism in North America. The book’s source text was constructed by compiling in their entirety the ninety-one western novels identified; then, using his word processor’s “Find” function, he searched the compilation for instances of 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 sections of the long poem, which are organized according to the letters of the alphabet, spatially disrupt the act of reading, as footnotes lead one to the back of the book to encounter words that participate in logics and lexicons of settler colonialism—such as “redskin,” “discovery,” and “whitest.” If this first poem, designated as “a)” appears stable, Abel soon destabilizes his text by the time we reach the second half of the alphabet from “p)” onwards. In these later “poems,” words disintegrate, letters sprawl as constellations across pages devoid of horizontal or vertical axes. By the end of the sequence, the reader has engaged with the physical object of the book by turning the pages upside down in order to read the text. A new experience emerges, as the author intended, with meaning and connections manifesting through tactile nature of the text.
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. Abel forces us to engage in a new conversation with the literature that has been a cornerstone for tiers, readers, and critics for hundreds of years.
Excerpt from Injun
he played injun in gods country where boys proved themselves clean
dumb beasts who could cut fire out of the whitest1 sand
he played english across the trail where girls turned plum wild
garlic and strained words through the window of night
he spoke through numb lips and breathed frontier2
he heard snatches of comment going up from the river bank
all them injuns is people first and besides for this buckskin
why we even shoot at them and seems like a sign of warm
dead as a horse friendship and time to pedal their eyes
to lean out and say the truth3 all you injuns is just white keys
some fearful heap some crooked swell
bent towards him and produced a pair
of nickel-plated pullers a bull winder of
dirty tenderness4 that stiffened into
that low-brow ice that dead injun game
Jordan introducing and reading from Injun (reading begins at 3:56).
* * *
Jordan Abel is currently completing his PhD at Simon Fraser University, where his studies focus on digital humanities and indigenous poetics. 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. After the publication of his second book, Un/inhabited, he was named one of 12 Young Writers to Watch by CBC Books (July 2015). This year Injun was the Canadian winner of the 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize.
* * *
Big thanks to Spencer Williams at Talonbooks for sharing
Injun work with us. For more poetry videos and excerpts, click
All Lit Up is produced by the Literary Press Group and LitDistCo. LPG and LitDistCo acknowledge the financial support of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council.
All views expressed by bloggers and contributors to the All Lit Up blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of All Lit Up or the Literary Press Group.
All Lit Up acknowledges we are hosted on the lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinaabeg, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat. We also recognize the enduring presence of all First Nations, Métis and the Inuit people, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to meet and work on this territory.