1106 Geographies of Treaty Eight
INTERVIEW: Dallas Hunt with Nathaniel G. Moore
Dallas Hunt is Cree and a member of Wapsewsipi (Swan River First Nation) in Treaty Eight territory in northern Alberta. His first children’s book, Awâsis and the World-famous Bannock was nominated for several awards. Hunt is an assistant professor of Indigenous literatures at the University of British Columbia and has published work in literary journals across the country. Creeland (Nightwood Editions, 2021) his debut poetry collection, concerns itself with notions of home and the quotidian attachments we feel to those notions, even across great distances. Even in an area such as Treaty Eight (northern Alberta), a geography decimated by resource extraction and development, people are creating, living, laughing, surviving and flourishing—or at least attempting to. – Nathaniel G. Moore
Nathaniel Moore: What is your ambition as a writer—what do you want to accomplish, personally and professionally?
Dallas Hunt: My ambitions are pretty simple really – for people to see Indigenous peoples as people, not deserving of the many violences distributed by the Canadian state. That said, I want people to also see us as communities that relish each others’ presence, that we feel joy and that there is so much that is imperceptible to those outside of our communities. We laugh, we love, we fight, but there’s a community there that’s doing its best and trying to thrive.
Nathaniel Moore: Are there any people in your life who are no longer with you (read: they died) but you really wish they could read one of your poems? If yes, which poem and why?
Dallas Hunt: Yes, my great-grandmother Louise Sound. I have a poem in Creeland that is specifically about her, and I wish she was around to read it. So often the women in our familial lives can face elision and/or erasure, and I just want her to know I think about her often and that I wish I could have met her.
Nathaniel Moore: In a recent interview you said for your next poetry book you want to explore themes more. Are you suggesting that Creeland is devoid of themes – or do you see each piece as part of a progression into completing your first book?
Dallas Hunt: I was speaking to the fact that Creeland deals with a variety of differing issues, whereas my next book of poetry might be more thematic in the sense that there is a driving “narrative” or “concept” that motivates the text. Creeland is actually thematic in many senses, but for the next one I might take hold of something and have it structure every poem in the collection. That could prove to be tedious to everyone involved, including myself, but it is something I’d like to try!
Nathaniel Moore: Can you talk about the poem ‘The Lighthouse’ for a moment? It weaves in and around so many avenues of thought. And now I realise its based on the film by the same name. I think I like the poem better!
Dallas Hunt: Many thanks – I’m glad you like the poem better (hopefully). Yes, the poem is about generalized anxiety basically, but right now I’m a big Willem Dafoe fan and was watching the film and his performance in that film was part of the impetus for me for writing it. That said, I think his acting in the Florida Project is achingly beautiful as well – restrained but doing so much work with his face. I guess I’m a fan.
Nathaniel Moore: In the poem ‘Even Tombs Die’ you reference the Shining which has had a history of being a film with a subtext about brutal treatment of Indigenous peoples in Colorado. Can you talk about what mind frame you were in when you put this one together?
Dallas Hunt: This will be banal, but I’m a big fan of horror films and I had probably just re-watched the film. I mean the “native burial ground,” in a way, constructs or orients what happens in the film. It’s incredibly problematic, but I also like this idea of haunting – Indigenous peoples will always be the subtext of that film. So, I guess even in our figurative elimination, we’re always around the edges – they can’t get rid of us.
Nathaniel Moore: How has your experience teaching affected your writing?
Dallas Hunt: It’s helped me think through how to better communicate (even if still oblique) some of the ideas I have. I also think that writing poetry has made me a better teacher and that generally my approach to poetics in speaking with students has changed a great deal. We all make mistakes, misreadings, but poetry is everywhere, so we have to contend with it somehow.
Nathaniel Moore: What advice do you wish you’d received, but didn’t, when you first started to take your writing seriously?
Dallas Hunt: “Just get started.” There are times when it’s incredibly difficult to write or that motivation isn’t there. And I would do that thing “well, it’s 11AM, I haven’t written anything. I guess the day is done.” Then one day I started saying to myself “just get started,” so even if it was 8PM and I wrote for 45 minutes, then that was better than not writing at all. Also, be attentive to details – whether that’s in a contract, festival invite, etc.
Nathaniel Moore: How does geography play into your writing process? Do you like to stay in one place to write, can you write anywhere you go, and do you wish you could go somewhere on the earth just so you could write for a few hours?
Dallas Hunt: I often write about geographies. As to whether there is a particular geography I like to write in, not really. I’ve written poems on ferries, on my couch, on planes. It’s less about the geography I’m currently situated in and the “idea” or “affective drive” of a particular poem. I would really go write anywhere, but I do miss the Banff Centre (that’s a boring answer, I know, but I wanted to give them a shoutout!).
Nathaniel Moore: What advice would you give a poet trying to finish their first book of poetry?
Dallas Hunt: Don’t be precious about your writing. Editors are there for a reason, and I was happy to work with the editors over at Nightwood. That said, if you feel strongly about a particular poem, word choice, etc, then stick to that choice. You know what you’re trying to say better than anyone else, and if something distorts that, then hold steady. Also be willing to be vulnerable and let this thoughts and feelings commingle, entangle, mix – you never know what’s going to come out of the cacophony.
Nathaniel G. Moore is the author of seven books including Jettison (Anvil Press, 2013) Savage 1986-2011 (Anvil, 2013), winner of the 2014 Relit Award for Best Novel. His book reviews have appeared in the Georgia Straight, the Globe and Mail, and Canadian Literature, and he reviewed Scarred: The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM, the Cult that Bound My Life, by Sarah Edmondson, for The Ormsby Review. He has also interviewed Tara Borin, Luke Inglis, Terence Young, Curtis LeBlanc, and Tom Wayman for The Ormsby Review. His new collection of essays, Honorarium, was released by Palimpsest Press (Windsor, ON) in Spring, 2021. Formerly of Pender Harbour, Nathaniel now lives and works in in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
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