How Jordan Abel deconstructed the racism in old western novels and won the Griffin Poetry Prize
Jordan Abel says curiosity drove him to create Injun, a poem in 26 parts that won the Griffin Poetry Prize, one of the richest poetry prizes in the world, earlier this month. In cutting up western pulp novels of the late 19th century, Abel has composed a visual poem that is stunning and searing in its portrait of racism.
In his own words, the Nisga’a poet, whose previous books include Un/inhabited and The Place of Scraps, describes the creation of Injun.
The power of found poetry
“The idea came from my previous books, specifically my first book The Place of Scraps, which used found text in a similar way. It was sourced from a book of anthropology by Marius Barbeau called Totem Poles. After I finished that book, I realized that found text has a lot of room for maneuverability in terms of talking about complicated Indigenous issues.
“I ended up searching out public domain found texts that I thought might be interesting or might have something to say about the representations of Indigenous peoples or Indigenous issues. I ended up coming to Project Gutenberg and finding a set of 91 public domain western novels. As I searched through them, I became interested in how they were constructed and how the representations of Indigenous peoples in those novels were constructed.
“The word Injun came up over and over again. It is a really difficult, derogatory word and one that is a mispronunciation of the word Indian. Every time it came up, I kept wondering, ‘How is this word deployed?’ and ‘What is it trying to do?’ and ‘How is it representing and/or misrepresenting Indigenous peoples?’ I was interested in looking at all of the contexts in which the word appeared.”