Local author Jordan Abel has been shortlisted for the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize for Injun, his book of conceptual poetry published by Talonbooks in 2016.
Abel is one of three poets being considered for the Canadian category of the prize. The Griffin is one of the largest prizes in the world for a first edition, single collection of poetry written in English. Another four authors are being considered for the international category of the prize.
Abel is a Nisga’a writer who is working on completing his PhD at Simon Fraser University. He is currently living in Robson with his wife Chelsea Novak, a journalist with the Castlegar News and the Rossland News.
Abel is still a bit overwhelmed with the nomination.
“I never thought I would get nominated for this prize,” he said a few days after hearing the news. He didn’t even know he was being considered for the prize as submissions for the prize are only accepted from publishers, not authors.
When asked how he felt about having his book selected from the 617 books that the judges read Abel said, “Disbelief mostly — it is really surprising and it has not really sunk in yet, just how big it is. It is one of those things that just doesn’t come around very often.”
The prize is presented by the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry, founded in 2000 by Scott Griffin and a list of trustees with very recognizable names — Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Robert Haas, Robin Robertson and David Young. The trust was established to “help raise the profile of both poets and poetry in the eyes of the public.”
Shortlisted authors are awarded $10,000 and the winner of each prize category is awarded $65,000.
Just like his previous book Un/Inhabited, the text for Injun comes from a selection of 91 books from the western genre, written by 20 different non-indigenous authors. Abel copied and pasted the entire contents of those books into a large text document so that he could simultaneously search them for certain terms.
Un/Inhabited looked at references to land, territory and ownership. For Injun, Abel searched out 512 sentences within those books that contained the word “Injun.”
“I was curious about how that word was deployed in that genre and what context surrounded it,” explained Abel. “It all surrounds a central search for context and understanding.”
He then arranged those words into one long poem for the book. Following the poem, Injun also contains a notes section and an appendix.
So far all of Abel’s works explore the possibilities of working with “found texts” and using those texts to talk about indigeneity and the representations of indigenous peoples.
Both books are a critique of the western literary genre and of colonial nostalgia.
“It really attempts to investigate why it is that we are so kind of nostalgically obsessed with the western genre and where indigenous peoples fit into that thinking, or perhaps, don’t fit into that thinking.
“Really the book is about racism and the problematic representation of indigenous peoples,” said Abel. “But it is also about confronting that and talking about it.”
Artistically, it is also “… an investigation of text and textuality and what is possible in terms of conceptual poetry,” said Abel.
Abel travels frequently as he has become much sought-after for his poetry readings, performances and as a speaker. He has recently made appearances in Ottawa, St. Catherines and New York. Performing is one of Abel’s favourite parts of being a poet. He enjoys adding a creative twist to his readings by pre-recording himself reading and re-mixing his voice with DJ software during the performance, frequently showing up with a large bag of audio equipment.
“It sounds like a weird, electronic sound poetry using clips of my voice,” explained Abel.
Abel is in the early stages of his next project, a creative distant reading project using The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper as his source text.
“My whole creative mood in my writing career, comes from a field of appropriative conceptualism where you use other people’s writing and re-mix it into your own writing, or re-mix it to comment on it,” said Abel.
“All of my work so far has basically been a critique of problematic colonial texts. It is also about inserting an indigenous presence,” explained Abel.
“In the act of re-mixing and re-making those texts [the source texts for Injun] somehow, the work becomes indigenous, because I am the one pulling it apart and reconnecting it all together,” added Abel. “I think inserting an indigenous presence at the same time as critiquing it, is more the mode these books are in.”
Injun can be purchased at https://www.amazon.ca/Injun-Jordan-Abel/dp/0889229775/.