Award-winning Nisga’a poet Jordan Abel’s third collection, Injun, is a long poem about racism and the representation of Indigenous peoples. Composed of text found in western novels published between 1840 and 1950 – the heyday of pulp publishing and a period of unfettered colonialism in North America – Injun then uses erasure, pastiche, and a focused poetics to create a visually striking response to the western genre.
After compiling the online text of 91 of these now public-domain novels into one gargantuan document, Abel used his word processor’s “Find” function to search for the word “injun.” The 509 results were used as a study in context: How was this word deployed? What surrounded it? What was left over once that word was removed? Abel then cut up the sentences into clusters of three to five words and rearranged them into
the long poem that is Injun. The book contains the poem as well as peripheral material that will help the reader to replicate, intuitively, some of the conceptual processes that went into composing the poem.
Though it has been phased out of use in our “post-racial” society, the word “injun” is peppered throughout pulp western novels. Injun retraces, defaces, and effaces the use of this word as a colonial and racial marker. While the subject matter of the source text is clearly problematic, the textual explorations inInjun help to destabilize the colonial image of the “Indian” in the source novels, the western genre as a whole, and the western canon.
“This isn’t a book of poetry alone. It is a documentary about the way violence forces a breakdown in language and how interpretation shatters when we speak to manifest meaningless hate. The world collapses. The words are only sounds. Injun isn’t just good; it is singular and essential.” — Julie Mannell in Vallum
“Abel’s project both engages and works to unsettle, attempting both an ease and unease into the ongoing shame of how aboriginals are treated and depicted in Canada through repetition, erasure and settler language. Simply through usage, Abel forces us, the occupiers, to confront our language, in an effort to reconcile, restore and heal, none of which can truly exist without real conversation.” — rob mclennan in rob mclennan’s blog
“Through all of his un-making, un-marking, and un-masking, Abel recreates infinite citizens in the ceremonies of his shaking tents and texts. Injun’s brackets alert us not only to what is enclosed, but also to what has escaped.” — Michael Greenstein in The Malahat Review
“Abel adduces a correspondence between the treatment of Indigenous people and other horrors of the twentieth century, that is, the holocaust and lynching (“same old”). He points to the myth of purity that’s disseminated via mass culture’s (so-called) benign entertainments and that authorizes violence as “play” in the settler’s imagination. In other words, Jordan Abel ain’t (thankfully, finally) your Canadaddy’s “old stock” Duncan Campbell Scott.” — Alex Porco in Jacket2
Quotes of Note:
“In parsing sentences of the colonial habitus that drives Old Westerns, Jordan Abel’s Injun turns tables of (dis)contents to redress the page, the book, and the naturality of reading. The poems build an alphabet and a numeracy, unfurl lexical ribbons of mourning that explode sentences forward and back, and then insist we recognize a vitally inhabited void. With his caress of phrases cruel with racisms, Abel deftly shows that where the social psychosis of West was founded, it also flounders, and on one word: injun with its echoes of injunction, injustice, injury, inject. This is brilliant work.” — Erin Moure
“Through word patterning and word breakdown, Jordan Abel shuffles up the English language in his probing of the use of the word ‘injun’ in public domain western novels. At once, his work creates a poetics of anti-colonial space and consciousness—a space where a new and vibrant Indigenous poetic consciousness can emerge. He is one of the most exciting and innovative Indigenous poets of our time.” — Neal McLeod
“I’m drawn to the fugitive nature of Injun. I imagine Abel poring over source texts, deconstructing code, forging meaning from scraps and breaking through colonial constructions with fever, and I can’t help but think he’s re-created my experience of being Indigenous in Canada. Well done.” — Leanne Simpson
“Built from a core sample of our culture’s colonialist project in language, Jordan Abel has opened a space of disruption, lament, resistance, and inquiry—a terrible, inverted singing that can undermine assumption, exposing ‘soft’ ideology. Injun isn’t a record of past wrongs, but a present tense intervention. A necessary, confrontational beauty. The country needs Injun right up in its face.” — Ken Babstock