Conceptual writer and poet Jordan Abel hosted a poetry slam based on Indigenous representation in literature at Watson Hall on Monday.
The Nisga’an poet uses the technique of erasure – an art form that involves erasing words and prose in existing literature to frame the words left as poetry – to portray the history of indigenous people.
Abel is an accomplished writer whose chapbooks, or paperback books containing poetry, have been published by Above/Ground and JackPine Press. His work has also appeared in several journals and magazines such as Canadian Literature, EVENT and Prairie Fire. His first-ever book, The Place of Scraps, was published in 2013.
Despite the fact that Abel is a successful, well-respected Canadian poet, the poetry reading didn’t exactly reflect all of the formidable work he’s done.
Abel started it off uniquely, without any dialogue. Instead, he incorporated a number of recordings of Indigenous stories and poetry that he repeatedly mixed in order to create an overlapping effect. It was interesting at first, but then slowly progressed to a redundant, incoherent mix of dialogue that allowed for little understanding.
Before beginning the actual reading of part of his upcoming project Uninhabited he went further into the background of the book and how it came to be.
“It’s half of a conceptual project I’ve been working on for quite a while,” he said. “I chose Project Gutenberg to start it off, which is a website that has lots of genres to choose from. I was curious about what these [archived] novels said about Indigenous peoples.”
By searching the words “Indian” and “Aboriginal”, Abel saw that the derogatory slang word “ingen” came up many times, so he decided to use this word for the basis of the poetry, he said. Abel was interested in the representations of race within these archives.
After doing a formal reading of part of the book, which was met more positively with the audience than the recordings had been, Abel went further into the context of his writings.
When asked about his focus on Indigenous issues, Abel answered that he’d wanted to find ways to connect with his roots.
“I started writing that first book because I felt disconnected from my Indigenous roots,” he said. “So I wanted to reconnect, but there was a barrier for me to do that because I wasn’t connected with my community – the only way I knew how to connect with indigeneity was through books.”
This particular reading didn’t do justice to Abel’s remarkable writings, but it’s evident that his work draws attention to the complexity of the issues that Indigenous peoples experience in today’s society, and the historical implications of these issues.
Abel realized over the years that these issues needed to be spoken about.
“I didn’t realize how problematic it all was when I started looking into it,” Abel said. “There were many implications in the readings incorporated in my work of the dismantling of Indigenous cultures.”
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