Books·Magic 8 Q&A

'My writing is medicine for me' says poet Janet Rogers

The author of As Long as the Sun Shines takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
As Long as the Sun Shines is a poetry collection by Janet Rogers. (Submitted by Janet Rogers/BookLand Press)

Drawing inspiration from her travels around the world, Mohawk and Tuscarora poet Janet Rogers has created a new poetry collection titled As Long as the Sun ShinesThe book encapsulates Rogers' passionate voice, as it seeks out answers to life's big questions.

Below, Rogers takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A, answering eight questions from eight fellow writers.

1. Jean McNeil asks, "Do you wish you could write in another language and if so which one?"

Well that's a very good question and somewhat timely, as my latest collection of poems from As Long As the Sun Shines will be translated into the Mohawk language in 2019 as part of the Modern Indigenous Voices Series with Bookland Press. And it is my wish to learn my language so I can read, at least some of the poems in the Mohawk language and continue to build my vocabulary from there. Mohawk language speaker Jeremy Green from Six Nations is doing the translations from English to Mohawk.

2. JJ Lee asks, "If you had to write a country song right now, what would the chorus be?"

As a music enthusiast, I enjoy many music genres, however country music is not one of them. But if I was tasked to write a chorus for a country song and there was no way to wiggle out of it I suppose I'd write a chorus that is empowering to women and brings Indigenous rights to the fore such as, "Walk proud as a redneck brethren, and remember where you come from — give praise to the redskin women, and walk gentle on our Earth-Mom." Something that would catch the ear making the listener say, "What did I just hear?"

3. Alison Pick asks, "How would you most like to be remembered?" 

As someone who inspires others to find their own voice, work with their own gifts and someone who uses my wisdom and experience as a writer, as an Indigenous person and as a human to help others be the best they can be. Also as a no-nonsense badass.

4. Cherie Dimaline asks, "What is your biggest fear when your books are finally released out into the world?"

Spelling mistakes, typos and grammatical errors that went unnoticed in the editing process.

5. Aviaq Johnston asks, "How do you come up with a title for what you are writing?"

As one of my great mentors, Richard Van Camp, told me — "name your babies" so leaving pieces untitled or titling them "untitled" is not an option. I find titles inside the pieces themselves by plucking a couple of words from a line that has great significance to the overall piece of writing. I give myself permission to be just as creative with the title as with the rest of the writing. If I'm really really stuck for a title, and this mostly happens for the big titles like for entire books or themed anthology, I will ask spirit for help, I will sleep on it, I will put tobacco down as an offering for an answer. This is how my fourth book was titled — Peace in Duress — I woke up one morning with that title in my head and used it for the book title.

6. Vivek Shraya asks, "What has been the most surprising question you have been asked at a Q&A/writer event/panel?"

Someone once wanted to know if it was okay for them, as a white person, to wear Native jewellery. They explained they felt uncomfortable wearing it because they didn't want to be accused of cultural appropriation. I replied that her answer was in her question — why do something that makes you feel uncomfortable. Who's forcing you to wear Native jewellery? On the other hand, Native artists want you to buy and wear their creations. Get to know the artists, learn firsthand about the designs and techniques and materials. Just don't make Native art or Native-inspired art as a non-Native person and try to sell it. Also someone asked me in an Equal Justice residency what percentage Native I am. I asked them to repeat the question and left it unanswered. It's a stupid, rude question that white people never get asked. I blame all these DNA testing kits for making people think in terms of percentages with regards to identity.

7. Louise Bernice Halfe asks, "Do you believe in the spiritual process of writing?"

Without a doubt it is my relationship to spirit that brought me to be a writer in the first place. It was two years after I moved to the west coast (Coast Salish territory) in 1994 that I began writing. I thought I was going to be a visual artist and kept moving my creative career in that direction. Writing itself has a spirit and I have often times been known to say my (early) writing felt like channelling. Now the process involves a balance of receiving verses, words, energy that inspires me to write and my own love of writing and authentic voice creating the foundation for what is written. My writing is medicine for me. The best measure of success for my writing is when others say my writing has helped them in some way.

8. Lawrence Hill asks, "If you could start your life all over again and writing were not an option, what work would you most love to do?"

When I unplug from writing, I love to binge watch home decor reality shows. I love watching a residential environment get transformed with colour, lighting, fabrics, textures furniture placement and TLC. I also have a lot of respect for people who can sew and design clothes. Despite taking sewing classes, I can not read a pattern or stitch an outfit to save my life.