Wednesday, May 03, 2023

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Tawahum Bige

Tawahum Bige [photo credit: Megan Naito] is a Łutselkʼe Dene, Plains Cree poet and spoken word artist from unceded Musqueam, Squamish & Tsleil-waututh Territory (cka Vancouver). Their Scorpio-moon-ass poems expose growth, resistance & persistence as a hopeless Two Spirit Nonbinary sadboy on occupied Turtle Island. In typical Aries-sun fashion, Tawahum completed the first-ever Indigenous Spoken Word residency at the Banff Centre in 2018 while completing their BA in Creative Writing from KPU in 2019.

Tawahum’s long-awaited debut album, Bottled Lightning, emerges May 5th. His single, Connect2Spirit charted #1 on Indigenous Music Countdown in June 2022. He’s performed at Talking Stick Festival, Verses Festival of Spoken Word, Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, and at over 50 different venues from Victoria to Toronto with his mixture of poetry & hip-hop. Past the stage and onto the page, Tawahum has been published in over a dozen different lit journals & magazines including Red Rising Magazine, Prairie Fire, CV2, Arc Poetry Magazine and in the anthology, Beyond Earth’s Edge: the poetry of spaceflight! A prolific word-artist, Tawahum has three self-published chapbooks with poetry collections on the way including a collection-in-progress funded by the Canada Council for the Arts. Nightwood Editions published Tawahum’s debut collection of poetry, Cut to Fortress, in 2022.

Beyond the page, Tawahum has battled the (in)justice system of BC and was eventually incarcerated for a 28-day sentence after a 2-year battle for his land protection work against Kinder Morgan/Trans Mountain’s pipeline expansion. Of course, this doesn’t stop him from grabbing a boom mic to amplify his words of resistance & resurgence at front-line rallies, street performances and more. Follow Tawahum on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: @Tawahum.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Chapbook: it gave me the agency to just make my fucking art and know it can be out there. To price it myself, front it, print it, get to know the editing cycle, give folks a taste of my best poetry at the time (2018) and a treat for those who had heard me live since some were those poems also.

Cut to Fortress: This book is the culmination of my best poems I wrote both in classes and in the community between 2016-2018. It was an arduous process that required finding a second publisher after things fell thru with the first. I almost quit. But I sent it out and found nightwood. I needed to have some of my family's story and my late brother Emeri Julian Elan Bige's story codified to continue long past my own existence. It's finally out as of 2022 and I feel like I can finally bury some of that experience as seeds to become beautiful art in the future also.

My recent work is still trauma-healing poetry. I rap now too, under the name Tawahum, and that's from a poetic place. But past the stuff I've completed and yet to release- I have been creating things that are more gently vulnerable and eschewing much of what I learned in the classroom to get to the core of who I am as a poet, a rapper. I used to yell a lot. Not so much in what I've been experimenting with lately.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Storytelling. The potency and urgency of being triggered and how that could be crystallized into a container for a lot of my trauma. Instead of a giant essay or a 2 hour ramble, I have assortments of poems from 1 minute or 1 page to just a few minutes or pages. Helps me put constraint on it. Then process it from that dissected place. Also being able to share it on the stage was fundamental in me believing my own story and accepting it, to have it heard by such a great group of humans.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

Pass on first part, too variable. Yo this whole question tbh. It wildly varies. Fast sometimes, slow others. The only thing I can say more certainly is that only few rare poems or songs come out looking like they're almost fully done on a first draft. The rest is arduous but again varies so wildly!

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Angst. The visceral need to tell some story. Reading someone else's work and feeling the former two things mentioned. Cut to Fortress is short into combination. Then, I've been trying to write books from concepts, but I think more recently we're back to stockpiling. It's such a fun process.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Fantastically important. I need readings and performances for a good portion of my work to understand how it literally lands with my audience. Seeing their faces, reactions, feedback. I am addicted to the stage. Even karaoke. Just please I love it.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?


7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Poets and writers and the larger umbrella: artists are integral to the social structure of any society. Ask almost any Indigenous culture whether here or elsewhere. Artists are prophets. They're lawmakers. Critics of law. Guides to next generations. Instigator of social change and revolution. There is no vacuum in which art is wholly separate from these things and I consider it a conspiracy by colonialism to keep artists as dispossessed and delineated from their true purpose as they are the greatest threat to that system.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Both. Gonna pass on this one too, or else I'll get too boringly academic.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Saul williams, when I asked him in a masterclass, "how do you develop voice," he replied,"I don't think about that. But since you asked, I will." He paused."Write everyday. Your voice will come from that." Anyone could've told me it but from him?? He's incredibly profound in his way.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (text-based works to performance works)? What do you see as the appeal?

Text is so quiet sometimes. I need quiet, to read, to study, cultivate a gentle routine in order to write purely page poetry. Performance works whether poetry or music, it's a much louder process. Listening to music. Writing and then speaking or rapping. Going to shows. Exhilaration. It's difficult to balance the two. Sometimes you're tired and desire that quiet. Sometimes you wanna party and bring the vibes. It's all beautiful. Sometimes they mix. Nothing is absolute.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

Writing at some point in a day. After pandemic that means I've missed some days, lost to vices and other distractions. But when I'm on my game, I write every day at some point. This year? I wake at Noon-1pm and take care of the business side of my full-time poet/artist career and then stay up til 4am and write at some point between 10pm and then. Never used to. Had to be in the first half of the day when I was making it a routine. Now, I lean into my love of the calm and dark of the night and it makes me so fucking happy.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I just read poetry. I'd say listen to music but that doesn't necessarily, enjoy it too much. But poetry is dangerous. Hard to read it and not want to write it.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Musty is the best word for it. Just old smelling things. Clothes sitting there for years. Musty.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Already mentioned but also yes I missed talking about the land- the land loves us and we love the land. How can you see the mountains the ocean the river the forest the desert the volcanoes the clouds the blue sky the fucking lightning and not want to fucking write!

Science can, you learn about how shit works and while being too stupid to truly comprehend it, just encode it back into poems as best you can. It's a funny experience. Scientist poets are something else entirely.

Visual arts goes with poetry well also! To see images and codify them, ekphrastic as it were. Fucking cool. My brothers Brandon Gabriel and Jonas Bige are really inspirational that way, their visual art. They just put up a 2 story piece honouring Kat Norris at KPU Surrey Library and it is PHENOMENAL.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

Saul Williams, Kae Tempest, Zack de la Rocha, Janet Rogers, Zaccheus Jackson, Jillian Christmas, RC Weslowski, Julian Randall, Saba, Kimmortal, Lee Maracle, lately, Patrick Lane. Sure there's more.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Travel. All around the world. Obviously it'll spark writing but whatever, I just need to experience things in different places, different people, different landscapes. Have my braveheart growing up moment.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Stunt actor/movement artist or actor that does their own stunts. Fucking love action movies and fight choreography. It inspires me so much! Or an animator of the same type of deal. Just encoding my visions of movement, conflict and battle into something tangible. Fuck ya.

Was almost in IT, that'd have been stable. But it made me feel disconnected from the real world to learn about computer world the more I got into my IT degree so I needed to find the opposite.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

Necessity. Connection. You write and connect with the world around you thru that. It's beautiful. Connects with above reply abt IT.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Hope Matters by Lee Maracle, Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter. A firecracker Indigenous mother and her daughters collabing on a poetry book? Are you fucking kidding me?

John Wick 4. I fucking love action. Stylized battles. Hero journey you can get behind. Just gorgeous.

20 - What are you currently working on?

About to release my debut music album, Bottled Lightning on May 5 with a huge launch show at The Fox Cabaret Vancouver with all my collaborators from the album May 30. Includes Ḱesugwilakw, Kimmortal, HK, Khingz, Adrian Avendaño, Dani Lion, and David Tallarico. Album concept is telling the story of my land protection work from 2018 that got me arrested and the 2 year arduous fucking court process that led to me being incarcerated for a month in 2020. It's gorgeous.

Two collection series about the development of my voice from a baby all the way til now. Whether how I learned to use it, or not, develop it, what it looks like. A lot of beautiful storytelling of my life's journey in more than just traumatic terms. It's called Stages of Tanning Words and Remembering Spells. Nightwood will release the first part in 2024!

After my album, more poems, more singles, just creating and also traveling to the UK to scout and learn about where our gross ass "country" and empire came from and chat with the locals about it.

Thanks for reminding me this was fun to do during my plane ride.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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