There’s a Poem for That: Dallas Hunt + Teeth

For National Poetry Month, Cree poet Dallas Hunt tells us about his new collection Teeth (Nightwood Editions) and why his poem “Scratch Tickets” would win Best Smile.


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There's a poem for that... NPM on All Lit Up.

An interview with poet Dallas Hunt

All Lit Up: Can you tell us a bit about Teeth and how it came to be?

The cover of Teeth by Dallas Hunt.

Dallas Hunt: Teeth came about after a particularly tumultuous time in my life, wherein I was dealing with loss through a variety of registers (death of family members; relationships crumbling; physical and mental health degradation). A lot of the collection is grappling with these issues and addressing them when I was in a lot of different “states.” When I was revisiting the collection, I decided to take out a lot of the pronouns and identificatory features of the book, so it can read as quite sparse or elusive, and that’s more or less a symptom of writing during these “states.” The collection was originally titled There is a place between love and ruin!, and while there is a poem with that title in the collection and while that is the general driving premise of the book, I decided on Teeth given the frequency with which it is mentioned in the book and how it signifies wildly throughout the text and life generally. And because “My Toof, My Toof!” was taken.  

ALU: Has your idea of poetry changed since you began writing? 

DH: I guess what has changed the most is “what” my writing is for, and I hope that doesn’t sound pedantic or pretentious at all. I’ve realized that there are a lot of things that I can only gesture to or address obliquely, and poetry offers a wonderful and generative avenue for getting at thorny or difficult areas, or issues that are hard to address “head on” — justice, love, grief, etc. For this collection, I’m interested in how affect or emotion always exceeds the labels we ascribe to it or spills out of the boxes we try to place it in. This book, then, and poetry broadly (at least for me) have been about these gestures or waves of the hand – attempts at describing or engaging with ideas/emotions/events that are hard to articulate or put into words. It’s difficult, but the work is in the gestures. *gesticulates wildly*

ALU: Can you discuss the significance of language and word choice in your collection. How did you land on which words to use?  

DH: A few words and phrases and titles of this collection are in Cree. I wrote this book both in and out of sleep, so apparently I dream in both Cree and English, which seems fitting to me. mîyo kisikaw! 

ALU: If you were to set your collection to a soundtrack, what song is at the top of the listing?

DH: Ugh, I hate and love this question simultaneously. I’m going to list songs that I know I wrote to while writing this collection and I’ll let you decide which song to put here. Here’s the soundtrack; you can decide the single:  

-Frank Ocean “Futura Free”  
-Paul Simon “Obvious Child”  
-Balmorhea “San Solomon (full band version)”  
-Greg Mendez “Rev. John / Friend”  
-The Replacements “Swinging Party” 
-Vince Staples “Law of Averages”  
-Gang of Four “Natural’s Not in It”  
-Armand Hammer “The God’s Must be Crazy”  
-Chromatics “Back from the Grave”  
-The Replacements “Can’t Hardly Wait”   
-Hop Along “How Simple” 
-Ty Dolla $ign “Love U Better” 

ALU: If your poem were to win a yearbook superlative (e.g. “Most likely to…”), what do you think it would be? 

DH: Best smile 🙂

There’s a poem for joy…
“scratch tickets” from Teeth

the paradoxical safeguarding against loss produces loss. at least you
don’t “get hurt” in that you lose nothing—but how wonderful it is to
fill that nothing and lose it sometimes!

shade in at the etches, edge an atmosphere, its margins a smudge, black
marker on your palms and the sides of your fingers. etch-a-sketch a
world and shake it to smithereens!

but a script is wearing a nice jacket to a restaurant and hating it the
whole time, or the black shoes you have to wear even though they
clomp too loudly against the sidewalk and you’re self-conscious
beneath its sound!

but then we have mussels at a restaurant that neither of us should be
eating at and neither of us can afford, really, and everyone will judge
our shoes and our obnoxious soles!

but i’ll get to hold your hand and see an entire star fall behind you,
the foreground: your face lighting up, ambient noise encasing. one
of my shoelaces will be undone. we could be undone!

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Photo credit: Hollim Lei

Dallas Hunt is Cree and a member of Swan River First Nation in Treaty Eight territory in northern Alberta. He has had creative works published in Prairie FirePRISM international and Arc Poetry. His first poetry collection, Creeland, published in 2022, was nominated for the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature, Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the Indigenous Voices Award. Hunt lives in Vancouver, BC.

* * *

Thanks to Dallas for answering our questions, and to Nightwood Editions for the text of “scratch tickets” from Teeth, which is available to order now (and get 15% off with the code THERESAPROMO4THAT until April 30!).

For more poetry month, catch up on our “there’s a poem for that” series here, and visit our poetry shop here.