Janet Marie Rogers is a Mohawk/Tuscarora writer from the Six Nations band in southern Ontario. She was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, and has been living on the traditional lands of the Coast Salish people (Victoria, British Columbia) since 1994.
Janet works in the genres of poetry, short fiction, science fiction, play writing, spoken-word performance poetry, video poetry and recorded poems with music. Unearthed is her third collection of poetry.
BCP: Why the title Unearthed for your new collection of poems?
JMR: I am Bear Clan. Bears dig in the dirt for roots and other medicines, they unearth what they need. I think of my poetry as medicine. It is what I have to offer the world as medicine, something good for the mind and spirit and body. That is my wish anyway. Also, many of the poems address “spirit” and speak of the experience of those we love who have gone to spirit. They unearth themselves from this world. Unearthed has multi-meanings, and I liked that about the word.
BCP: What was the process of putting this collection together?
JMR: As a writer, I am constantly writing. So over time, the collection started to build. The process for this collection was to print the poems so I had a physical thing to handle, and pack around with me. I took my time to read through each piece and began to short list my own work. I only wanted my strongest poems to make the cut. Leaf Press took no time at all to accept the manuscript. They allowed me to choose my own editor. I took no time to ask Secwepemc poet Garry Gottfriedson to edit the collection. His notes were so helpful and encouraging. I had always admired him as a writer, now I know he is a great editor and mentor. He saw there were three distinct themes to the collection Love, Politics and Identity. Having the work divided into themes help me to make the messages in each piece more clear. It was a wonderful process and both Garry and my publisher were a dream to work with. A three way street of respect.
BCP: This is your third book, how is this collection different from the first two?
JMR: You know each new collection grows as the writer grows. That is to say, I’m still pretty much the same person I was when the first book came out, just stronger, wiser, my skin is thicker and my vision is more clear. The new poems reflect that for sure. I’ve lived, travelled, survived loss and am here to tell you about it. Again, that’s my medicine. The messages in the poems can help you, even if it is just through affirmation. I like to think of each new book as a big sibling to the last one. They are related, like brothers and sisters.
BCP: How is the process of writing poems for a book different than for a CD of spoken word?
JMR: The writing process is no different from the page to an audio recording. When I write, I use long hand and write the very first draft of anything with a pen onto paper. So the process is the same. I also read both out loud; the page poem and the spoken word recording. The difference is where they end up living and existing in the world. The audio recording takes a bit more time and attention to complete for obvious reasons. Those poems live with music tracks which have to be located, timed, read with, worked out and finally recorded. The book poems get printed and presented at readings and enjoyed by the reader. The audio recording can live on the airwaves. Way cool!
BCP: Who are you reading these days?
JMR: I’m consuming all I can on Mohawk poet E. Pauline Johnson in readiness for a two week research fellowship at the National Museum of the American Indian. I am reading a lot of her biographies and enjoying how the information there transports me to a time when she walked this earth. No doubt, I’ll be reading a lot of archival material during the fellowship.
BCP: Please list 5 essential Indigenous writers for the blackcoffeepoet.com readers.
JMR: Well I’ve already been singing the praises of my editor Garry Gottfriedson. I recommend you get any one of his poetry books: Skin Like Mine, Glass Teepee or Whisky Bullets.
I also recommend Cree writer Thompson Highway. He’s kind of like the Buffy Sainte Marie of native writers because he’s in a class all of his own and he broke so much ground for other native writers and playwrights.
I love Louise Half. Her writing is strong and unique and she a very good presenter of her work.
If your into Poly-Sci, I suggest my Mohawk bro Taiaiake Alfred. His writing is smart and I very much appreciate the non-apologetic statements his writing addresses in Peace, Power and Righteousness and Wasase.
Last but not least, Nicola Campbell has certainly mastered the children’s writing genre as well as the poetry and creative non-fiction genres.
BCP: It’s Indigenous Sovereignty Week next week. What does that mean to you?
JMR: I don’t like the word Sovereign because it’s a very old English word and it actually means accepting bits of rights as handed down from a higher power. Where’s the empowerment in that? And I understand we do these things: National Aboriginal Day, National Native Heritage Month etc. to draw attention to or to create celebration around our contributions and our survival, but where Indigenous people are concerned, celebrating our survival is one thing, living and thriving needs to be done every single day.
BCP: You practice different forms of art: poetry, spoken word, painting, and film making. Can you give Advice to other multi-disciplinary artists like yourself?
JMR: This is a great time to be an artist. It’s a super great time to be an Indigenous artist because I see so much fusion and hybrids of art practices taking place and no one’s nose is getting bent too much out of shape over it. The Yaqui Indian who plays classical guitar is recording with the white guy percussionist, the pow wow dancer is performing with the Indian metal bands, its all good. When I think of how open the possibilities are for poetry to live in multiple places at once, I get really turned on by that. So in terms of advice, I’d say, as long as you’re not messing with anyone else’s cultural properties but your own, and you are an artist working from the heart and pure inspiration – the sky’s the limit and even then some…
Tune in to BlackCoffeePoet.com Friday November 11, 2011 for a video of Janet Marie Rogers reading from her new collection “Unearthed”.