Commenting from the position of a “First Nations woman writer,” in this interview, conducted by e-mail in the fall of 2009, Baker deals with writing as a reflex of trauma, “bad writing,” “madness,” and the political dynamics of literary communities—their exclusions, conflicts, and contradictions. Literary commmunities function through an increasingly ideological system of state funding, which in part determines who is eligible to participate and which texts have “literary merit.” In addition to the problematic ways in which funding is constitutive of relationships and roles (“judges,” “emerging” or “established” writers, “administrators,” “distribution / subscription,” “poetry,” etc), funding also censors dissent. We hope readers will find much here that’s worth the risk.
It is certainly worth the risk (you should see Johanson’s essay on Baker in the 2008 anthology ANTIOPHONES: Essays on Women’s Experimental Poetries in Canada [see my review of such here] for further information/analysis of her work). In the body of the interview itself, Baker says:
One of the myths is that we ndns don’t have a written language so therefore we are inferior. I have a counter argument to that assumption. My complicated argument here is that if an Indiginous writer agrees to this falsehood then he or she may be complicit in “bad writing.” Colonized writers do not find out their own history so when literary critics step in and sort, catalogue, interpret, and assess writing, they are more than happy to accept a non-indiginous evaluation. Even the class factor does not get any critical attention because of the settler (and complicit native) opinion that everyone in society is equal. I was just reading Jameson for my class and he seemed to contend that a Marxist analysis did utilize historical detail because they valued materialism. I think I am being pragmatic. We do need more historical context in our ndn writing.
Other highlights of the issue include rare (it seems) new writing by Baker, Donato Mancini, Lise Downe and Fenn Stewart (daughter of Christine), as well as Lisa Robertson, who has a new collection out any minute now with University of California Press; did you know that next fall she is to be writer-in-residence at Simon Fraser University?
fine sidelines, them hallowed cheeks
sometimes i never told you
another itch, too verdant
some stitches, smear
some giddiness, somehow
uncertain small quiver wrath
thin bottomless and hopeless digging
some gruel, singing
in time, these rows of duckweed
this rind of helpmeet
scam borders, briefly
lamp lighting (Fenn Stewart)
Waterloo ON: I recently picked up a copy of The New Quarterly #113, I admit, first and foremost for the essay by Monica Kidd, her version of “falling in love with poetry” [see my version here]. Does Prism International still have those essays at the beginning of writers on writing? I’ve always been a fan of these pieces, and would even welcome a down-the-road collection of these, whether a best of, or simply the entire run of them over the length of the journal (they only created this feature, I’m sure, only a couple of years back). I wonder how many exist so far? Writing on being a doctor and a poet, as well as referencing poems by Kingston poet Joanna Page, in her “Ground-truthing,” Kidd writes:
In another life, I am a poet. Poetry is the spinster aunt of literature. The path of story beaten down by her fraught and earnest twin sisters, fiction and non-fiction, poetry is at liberty to tease, to embroider, to misquote; to plead, to adorn, to deface. Poetry is the hobgoblin of literature, full of shape-shifting devilment. Poetry frightens. “I liked your poems the best,” my distressed father-in-law-to-be once confided after attending a reading in Toronto. I had read a series of narrative poems based on news stories; some of the poets who followed me were rather more experimental. “At least I understood what you were talking about.” Poetry contorts and vandalizes. It mutters to itself and speaks in tongues.
I grew up in rural Alberta, my childhood took place in the centre of that stanza. I have lain in the tall grass of the unfenced prairie, my sun-bleached hair the colour of wheat, the mechanical buzz of grasshoppers in my eight year-old ears, straining for the sounds of other children’s voices in the distance. Up for early morning bus rides, I have watched the first daylight and, after an evening of baseball or planting potatoes, the last, cross-fading to northern lights. I know that raw and fullest blue. It has pulled me back and forth acros a continent. I grope for it instinctively, as one reaches for a phantom leg.