Shane Rhodes is the author of six collections of poetry, including X, which was just released; The Wireless Room, which won the Alberta Book Award for poetry; Holding Pattern, which won the Archibald Lampman Award; and The Bindery, which won the Lampman-Scott Award. His poetry has also appeared in a number of Canadian poetry anthologies including Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets. His work is available online at Lemon Hound, Numéro Cinq and Rattle. Rhodes lives in Ottawa, Ontario.


1. What is your writing process?

I sleep. I wake. I eat. I sit. I think. I drink a cup of matcha. I turn on the radio. I listen. I turn off the radio. I sit. I turn on the computer. I look at the computer screen. I read email. I search the internet for a 15th century papal bull. I read. I write. I erase. I sit. I exhibit common avoidance procedures. I stare out the window. I try not to look at the computer screen; I pretend it isn’t there. I search the OED for the etymology of “kench.” I read the Wikipedia page on “paprika” and then “grey seals” and then “matcha” and then “match” and then “phosphorus sesquisulfide” and then “phossy jaw” and then “the London matchgirls’ strike of 1888.” I get a hold of myself. Seriously, I get back to writing. I write. Seriously, I write. I sit. I erase. Seriously. I don’t look out the window; I pretend it isn’t there. I write quickly. I erase quickly. I work. I read email. I talk. I listen. I come home. I sit. I write. I erase. I write. I read. I write. I sleep.


2. What’s some writing advice you’ve received, that works for you?

While traveling in Mexico for a year, I met a Texan who passed on this advice (it was advice, he told me, that was passed on to him by his grandfather): “There are three things you really need to know in life: how to drink, how to dance, and some names to call the stars.” It seems just a pertinent now as it did then.


3. Can you say a little bit about the genesis of X?

X, which is my sixth book and available with Nightwood Editions, is largely made up of poems based on Canada’s post-confederation treaties, on contemporary and historical “Indian” law and policy, and on the current discourse around treaty rights and First Nations protests in Canada. X came from my desire to better understand how colonization, settlement and anti-Indigenousness (for racism is too general a term for the particular types of discrimination we have engineered in relation to Aboriginal people in Canada) functioned historically and continues to function in the present.

Conducted by the Government of Canada over a 50-year period, Canada’s post-confederation treaties (commonly called the numbered treaties, numbers one through eleven) represent the “legal” basis for one of the largest systematic, colonial land appropriations in the world. Daunting for the history and future they carry and their impenetrable legal diction, these texts represent the foundational logic of Canadian colonization and of ongoing settler, First Nations, Inuit and Métis relations. The post-confederation treaties, and their interpretation and implementation, ceded vast territories across Canada regardless of tens of thousands of years of First Nations’ history and placed Indians (it was a point of law that Indians be called Indians and not persons) on reserves smaller, in proportion, than the generous land grants being given to newly arrived settlers from Europe.

X uses the treaties’ own strategies of finding, one-sided negotiating, erasure, obfuscation and overstatement to take the documents themselves apart. At the same time, the constraints placed upon the project (to restrict my vocabulary to the source material) seemed a fitting strategy (indeed, it seemed to me the only ethical strategy that could work), given that the documents themselves are so much about the creation of new constraints (constraints that would only grow with the establishment of the Indian Act and its many precursors) for a frontier territory and its peoples to feed the growth of the British Dominion and its domination.


4. Have you had to sacrifice anything in the rest of your life to write?

I have tried sacrifice but have found it is an inconsistent way to please the gods. I sacrifice no longer.


5. Do you think writing helps you to understand more about yourself and the world, or is advancing as a writer more about learning how to communicate the things you already know?

I write poetry to understand the world around me. I write myself into the parts of the world that I don’t understand.

There is a story that I tell in my second book, holding pattern, about how, in an ancient land, a King would let a horse wander for a year followed by a band of soldiers. If the horse was impeded in any way, the soldiers would fight to make sure the horse could wander freely. At the end of the year, the horse was slaughtered and the land over which it had wandered became the King’s territory.

My poetry: I let it wander.


This interview is part of Intermittent Visitors: a multi-author blog tour.

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