The Next Chapter

Why Janet Rogers sees poets as witnesses to history

The Mohawk/Tuscarora broadcaster, poet, teacher and performer discusses her poetry collection Totem Poles and Railroads.
Janet Rogers is the author of Totem Poles & Railroads. (UNBC/ARP Books)

Janet Rogers is a Mohawk/Tuscarora broadcaster, poet, teacher and performer. Her latest book, Totem Poles and Railroads, is the fifth collection of poetry from the author known for her unflinching, criticism of colonialism and her advocacy for the inclusion of Indigenous voices.

Janet Rogers spoke with Shelagh Rogers about Totem Poles and Railroads. This interview originally aired on Sept. 11, 2017.

On condensing history

"A lot of what can be said can be said with very few sentences. But there's a lot because the book is rooted very much in the current of what was happening when I wrote it last winter. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings were being published, the recommendations were being announced and I felt it was necessary to report on those things — and in the creative voice." 

On the role poets play in society

"I think we have a lot of jobs. Reporting on the times is one of them, and then processing personal experiences in relationship to what's happening in the times — to share the perspective. My case, as an Indigenous writer, is to share that distinct and unique perspective. It's one voice but it reaches the totality, I think, of the experience at the time. When researchers or anthropologists or anything of this nature, want to look back at the time when the TRC hearings were being shared and the recommendations were being published, there's something of a creative nature that they can turn to. It's important to offer those things and make them have a presence."

Janet Rogers on where her poems come from

"It might be best to call it a great mystery and leave it at that. But when I think about where they come from there's a lot of the body, for me, involved in that. So I feel it — it's visceral — I feel it in the heart, I feel it in the head, I feel it in the back of my neck, I feel it in my stomach and my legs, everywhere. And before I know it the pen is making it happen."

Janet Rogers' comments have been edited and condensed.