This lesson plan is intended as an educational resource to introduce secondary and post-secondary students to the Next Wave Indigenous artist Jordan Abel, a Nisga’a writer from British Columbia.
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1. LESSON PLAN: JORDAN ABEL
Jordan Abel is a Nisga’a writer from BC. Currently, he is pursuing a PhD at Simon Fraser University where his research concentrates on the intersection between Digital Humanities and Indigenous Literary Studies. Abel’s creative work has recently been anthologized in Best Canadian Poetry (Tightrope), The Land We Are: Artists and Writers Unsettle the Politics of Reconciliation (Arbiter Ring), and The New Concrete: Visual Poetry in the 21st Century (Hayword). Abel is the author of The Place of Scraps, which won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, and Un/inhabited. His most recent book, Injun, a poetic interrogation of the colonial fantasies found in pulp Western novels, won this year’s Griffin Poetry Prize.
Jordan Abel was scheduled to join the New Constellations tour on the bus for the Western leg of the tour, but due to illness only appeared at the show in Winnipeg, where he was living as the Fall 2017 Writer-in-Residence at the University of Manitoba. He read from his book-length poem, Injun, which was recognized as the year’s best book of Canadian poetry by the 2017 judges of the Griffin Poetry Prize (a $65,000 award). Jordan wrote Injun by pulling text from 92 westerns published between 1840 and 1950, beginning with a 10,000-page source text and focusing on lines in which the word “Injun” appeared, creating a long poem that investigates race, racism, and erasure.
2. HIGHLIGHTED WORK
Read and listen to an excerpt from Injun as Jordan Abel presented it at the Griffin Poetry Prize reading in June 2017: http://www.griffinpoetryprize.com/awards-and-poets/shortlists/2017-shortlist/jordan-abel/#excerpt
You can also read an excerpt at Poetry In Voice, a national recitation contest for high-school students, here: https://www.poetryinvoice.com/poems/injun
3. ARTIST INTERVIEW
What inspired you to write Injun?
I’ve always found the western genre deeply troubling, especially in regards to the representation of Indigenous peoples. My inspiration for writing Injun came out of this desire to complicate, disrupt, and ultimately dismantle the racism that is at the core of the western.
Though at the New Constellations show you read directly from your book, you have often performed this poem by playing a pre-recorded audio mash-up of your voice reading the poem. How did you create that piece?
That piece was created using several samples of my voice reading the poem that I then cut-up and edited with a few different programs like Garage Band and Adobe Audition. The performance of the piece (as you described above) happens by way of remixing those audio files in real time through a DJ program called Ableton (and through a DJ controller [an Akai APC mini in the Griffin video]).
How would you describe the process of working with found text? How did you make the choices to combine different fragments? Did you have any favourite surprises?
The whole thing is a surprise to me. Every time I look at it (and/or perform from it), I’m always surprised by the way the language came together (or in some cases came apart). The process of working with found text is a lot like working with collage. The act of writing becomes something other than just the work of imagination, and instead becomes the work of recombination, contextualization, and even curation.
How did you first come to poetry?
I was talking about this with my wife Chelsea the other day. We were both undergrads at the University of Alberta, and she was taking a poetry class. Which seemed pretty cool to me even though at the time I might not have admitted that. I think at one point she suggested that I take a poetry class with one of the professors that she liked/had worked with before. When we talk about it now, it’s funny how such a small moment can have such an enormous impact.
Do you have any advice for young writers?
Yes! Keep writing. Never give up. I think it’s such a small piece of advice. But everyone I know that has succeeded in writing and publishing got there because of perseverance. Likewise, I know a lot of people that at some point or another just stopped trying. As long you don’t stop trying, you will succeed. I believe in you!
What do you hope readers will take away from your work?
I hope that my work is a starting point for some kind of dialogue. Whether it’s about Indigenous history, the possibilities of poetry, or whatever else. I hope the work will get readers to think, to ask questions, and to start conversations.
What does “resurgence” mean to you?
For me, resurgence is about reconnecting with traditional Indigenous knowledges, languages, and worldviews, and it’s about recognizing when those connections/pathways have been impacted by colonial violence.
4. WRITING EXERCISES
Jordan’s book Injun explores the idea of how stories change depending on who is telling them and how our ideas about the world are shaped by the language of the stories we hear and retell. What does it mean when you aren’t able to tell your own story? What might it mean to disrupt and reclaim stories that have caused harm to others, stories that served to erase the experience of others? Write an “erasure poem” by selecting a source text that you want to investigate closely. This can be a historical document, a letter from a famous writer, a novel, a newspaper article or op-ed — really anything, but it should be something that you find meaningful. You can do this on the computer using copy and paste and search functions, or you can work with a black marker on paper; start cutting words and lines away so that what is left starts to tell a new story. Make sure you think about how the words and phrases flow together so that the lines that you create will make sense to a reader. Look at how Jordan’s poem exposes the racism that runs through the novels he used and think about what your choices of what to cut and what to keep will reveal about your source text. What does the author’s language reveal when it’s separated from its original sequence? Check out the image of how Jordan arranged the lines in Injun (there’s a photo here: http://www.griffinpoetryprize.com/awards-and-poets/shortlists/2017-shortlist/jordan-abel/#excerpt)) and think about how the way you arrange the work on the page affects the way the poem reads. Keep going until you have a new piece that feels complete.
5. NCTR'S IMAGINE A CANADA: AN INVITATION TO SHARE YOUR VISION FOR THE FUTURE
The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) is calling on all young people to Imagine a Canada through the lens of Reconciliation! What is your vision of Reconciliation? What does it look like?
Imagine a Canada is an invitation for all young people, from across the country to share their own vision of what Reconciliation can be. It can be a poem, a song, a painting, a sculpture, a rap, a drawing, an essay, anything! This invitation is extended every year to ensure that young people remain a part of visioning Reconciliation in Canada. Imagine a Canada is perfect for students, from kindergarten to post-secondary, to explore both the past and our shared journey into the future. Collectively, we want to be looking into the future of Reconciliation and youth deserve to be a part of this visionary exercise. Imagine a Canada is a great way for young people to see themselves not just as concerned citizens, but as transformative citizens; to empower them to be the change they want to see in the world.
When studying work by contemporary Indigenous artists, it's important to consider Canada’s troubled relationship with First Nations and the truths about Residential School history, a context that the NCTR is dedicated to supporting in the classroom. As students learn more about this history, it is important to provide them with opportunities to contribute to change. Of course, learning truths about Residential School history can be very upsetting, and we want to continue that learning with opportunities to work towards a better future. Imagine a Canada is one such opportunity.
Friends and partners of the NCTR from across the country will help recognize and honour submissions in each region of the country and one entry from each province and territory will be selected each year to attend a national celebration of Imagine a Canada!