Dallas Hunt is Cree and a member of Wapsewsipi (Swan River First Nation) in Treaty 8 territory in northern Alberta. His creative work is published in Contemporary Verse 2, Prairie Fire, PRISM international, and Arc Poetry. His first children’s book, Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock, was published through Highwater Press in 2018, and was nominated for several awards. His first collection of poetry, Creeland, is published by Nightwood Editions (2021). Hunt is an assistant professor of Indigenous literatures at UBC.
Creeland is a poetry collection concerned with notions of home and the quotidian attachments we feel to those notions, even across great distances. The poems in this collection are preoccupied with the role of Indigenous aesthetics in the creation and nurturing of complex Indigenous lifeworlds. They aim to honour the encounters that everyday Cree economies enable, and the words that try—and ultimately fail—to articulate them.
Interviewed by Mieke de Vries
Mieke de Vries (MDV): In the afterword, you write that “CREELAND is a space, a way of being, of living in and in relation to our homelands, full of joy, yet cognizant of myriad intimate violences. But, just as importantly, this book is about being steeped in love and community.” How does “being steeped in love and community” influence the way you write about joy and violence? What does this steeping infuse into your work?
Dallas Hunt (DH): Our communities, and all communities (just to be clear so we’re not pathologizing Indigenous communities here), are steeped in joy and violence. For me, personally, I am speaking to a particular geography and people that I’m in relation to and the myriad complications and obligations that entails being in those relationships. Love and community mitigate the violence. And joy is everything else.
MDV: In addition to CREELAND, you have also written a children’s book, Awâsis and the World-Famous Bannock, and a non-fiction book, Storying Violence: Unravelling Colonial Narratives in the Stanley Trial with Gina Starblanket. How does the concept of genre play out in your writing? Does something shift in your writing process when writing in a different genre?
DH: I’m an academic by training, so I’m constantly thinking about genre (whether I like it or not, haha). Really, though, what I’m dealing with is narrative on the one hand, and grammar on the other. By that I mean there are grammars that structure our daily lives (colonialism, capitalism, et alia), and whether it’s through children’s books, poetry, or non-fiction, I’m more or less trying to gesture to these grammars (and hoping for their possible implosions).
MDV: There is a glossary at the end of CREELAND which translates some, but not all, of the Cree words into English. What was your intention behind this choice? Could you speak to the role translation plays in this book and in your work more broadly?
DH: I like to make people work at times. And so, the purposeful elisions are a gesture to that, but I also think that some translations should not be available to audiences. In a way, it’s a kind of perverse refusal, because I’ve published the book publicly – it’s out in the world – but there are certain words I don’t want particular audiences to know. I hope I don’t sound combative: generally, it’s just how I feel about the translation and transmission of our languages and knowledges.
MDV: In “Porcupine 1”, you write “trees speak to one another with vocabularies that could burst the grammars that house us.” How does language house you? How does this differ within the Cree language and the English language?
DH: Language houses us all, whether we like it or not. In Cree, embedded within our languages are a plethora of our knowledges – whether that is governance, politics, science, law, justice, and on and on. I can’t really speak to how the Cree and English languages differ in this capacity. But, in short, poetry is making a house out of language and hoping it doesn’t collapse.
MDV: In “Rueful”, you write “‘this world is one that insists / on constant bruising / and yet adamantly encourages us / not to be tender. / that is to say, it asks us to house / bruises, but not the way / a bruise feels'”. Later in the poem: “as i swerve / into a rock bed / what does it mean to be tender?” What interests you about the concept of tenderness? How does the concept of tenderness shape your writing?
DH: I like this question simply because I don’t actually know what “being tender” means, in a purely rational sense. In a way it’s just affect – pure feeling. So in that poem when I talk about my grandmother peeling an orange, it seemed at once both violent and tender – she’s stripping something of its skin, yet it’s for her sustenance and one of the only things she can stomach while she’s dying of cancer. I guess, in a way, that might be the most important relationship in the entire book. It illustrates what it’s like to be in relation – it’s splitting skin to save yourself, while still needing that other being to nourish you. I guess tenderness is the process of being undone by something with the hope that nourishment is on the horizon. Maybe it never comes. But maybe sometimes it does.
MDV: Your writing feels very embodied. What space does the body occupy in your work? How does your body shape your work? What happens in your body when you write?
DH: The body is both a prison and a site of profound liberation, especially when we exceed our bodies, or when they betray us involuntarily. That preoccupies my thoughts a lot. As to what happens in my body when I write, your guess is as good as mine – I’m not that kind of doctor.
MDV: Some of your poems borrow titles from songs (“A Prairie Fire That Wanders About” and “Born Under Punches (In Billings, Montana)”). How does music influence your work? Who/what were you listening to as you wrote CREELAND?
DH: I listen to music sometimes when I write, but sometimes I write in silence. I grew up playing instruments, so I appreciate that familiarity occasionally. At times, though, I like feeling estranged, so music doesn’t really help there. As to what I was listening to, I wrote the book over several years, so it’s essentially a list of a variety of artists. Hard to say. But, for the sake of brevity, I’m going to say MF DOOM. RIP DOOM.