post-cordilleran Tsmishian-Tlingit relations (excerpt)


to avoid confusion
follow the complex, fragmented narratives
of lashed canoes                           under glacier
under darkness
under repeated threat

along
the Chukachida
across Muskwa           up Spatsizi      south to west
to Kwinamass          down
            to Kaien across Kts’mat’iin
through the everyday perhumid paradox
cliff-hanging submergence
and the intuition-obscured cloud cover
of the snow-sleet-driven clock
within the why and where
of the next forced retreat
across slippery gravels                 ticking wet
with ice nodules weeping

to walk-off despair
seek the briefest joys
with the imagined future utility
of this handful of blue feathers
combed along the uplift amphitheatre
echo of red cedar-tilting place

with every alien
river crossing attempt
to decode or navigate
the mis contextualizations of denial
cast into a form of cinderblock history
the downstream futures of canadian poetry
drift in tiny white triangles
to obfuscate the perhumid horizon
of hyper maritime growth cycles
disrupting the Indigenous climate
with the polite-heavy precipitate death
of every myopic pastoral line
scribbled by a hot rod polaris
seeking to physically dominate
all gently undulating
lyric terrains


Questions and Answers

How/Where do you find inspiration today?

Inspiration for my work hardly ever comes from personal experiences. It does not come from a purely academic approach, but what inspires me are the larger issues and histories of the place where I live, on BC’s North Coast. However my own personal experiences may find a thread within the work, the larger context of a poem—that which initiates and finishes the writing—is always either curiosity about some remarkable aspect of the biotic environment or the necessity to come to a better understanding of some remarkable aspect of the human cultural environment. Here, on the North Coast of BC, both the wild and the human aspects of life are rich with a great beauty, but both have also been subject to equally great abuses. Either of these issues is worth study and comment, and to study them together makes for a challenge in expression that is as personally rewarding as it is culturally important.

What inspired or motivated you to write this poem.

This particular poem is based on my education into the historical conflicts that occurred on the North Coast between the Tsimshian and the Stikine peoples, between 1,500 to 2,000 years ago. A large glacier moved to block the Stikine River, causing economic hardship for the Stikine peoples, and they were forced to become migrants, traveling downriver to look for new village sites, which brought them into conflict with the Tsimshian that lived in and around the area that is now Prince Rupert. For many generations these culturally and linguistically distinct peoples were either in all-out war with one another or were working carefully to gradually assimilate in order to create a peaceful co-existence that would eventually lead to the stability we find today. As the poem progresses, contemporary aspects of colonial, Canadian settler, and global immigrant experience start to make incursions, complicating the narrative with reflections of relevant issues we are confronted with today.


This poem “post-cordilleran Tsmishian-Tlingit relations (excerpt)” originally appeared in Literary History. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 233 (Summer 2017): 69-70.

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