I think we have—and can have—a right to be free
Poetry is creaturely. It resists categorical capture. It is a shape-shifting, defiant force in the world. Indeed, it runs counter to the world. The aphorism from Michel Foucault leads me to a description of the poem as an entity that insists on “a right to be free.” It is an entity because our skin becomes its and its skin becomes ours. In this way, it bears a theory of nonsingularity—the lyric “I” opens up on itself as well as particularizes; the poem brings us into our bodies and thus readies us for the touch and affection of others. I read and write poetry because it is a time and place to practice radical empathy. Poetry reminds us that there are worlds everywhere, in a gradation of states of flux, many of which are hanging in the balance. If a poem could speak, it might chant: if freedom has not yet come, let us sing it home!
This is what I hope my poems have done as they have made their way across Canada and outside it, across its at once rupturing and rupturable border. This Wound Is a World marked my curiosity about the poem as a unit of study, where study is construed by Fred Moten as a convergence of suffering, dancing, and walking together. At their most curious and energetic, the poems in this book seek to marshal experience, felt knowledge, and feeling in the service of a kind of anticolonial and/or queer theorizing. Consciously and subconsciously, I endeavored to square up against the long history of racism and homophobia in Canada to render forms of indigeneity and queerness that were “recurrent, eddying, troublant,” that in their restlessness could agitate affectively arrested ideas of what it is to live, to grieve, and to be desirous of freedom from the position of queer indigeneity. That is, I experimented with the poem as a time and place to breach the sound barriers of historical ignorance and single-issue politics to posit a futurity for the queer Indigenous.
Dr. Alex Wilson of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation teaches me and us that queer and trans Indigenous and two-spirit youth are subject to some of the most acute and world-shattering forms of violence in Indigenous communities: “our bodies, genders, and sexualities have been regulated in a continuum of violence.” How might we strike a note of caution and accusation about the failure of liberal governance and historical reckoning to address the misery that tailgates the lives of the doubly and triply marginalized? With which words do we spin a message about what’s needed to fissure the structures of bad feeling that catastrophize our lives?
Keguro Macharia asks: “What kind of knowledge is freedom-building, freedom-creating, freedom-pursuing, freedom-sustaining? What’s the relationship between this knowledge and state-sanctioned knowledge? What will ground this freedom-oriented knowledge?” Having witnessed the antifreedom stance of many in higher education, I have come to install optimism and hope in the poem as a geopolitical coordinate to enact this grounding of “freedom-oriented knowledge.” If political talk and social theory haven’t managed to make life more livable for all on their own, then perhaps poetry can shore up a decolonial knowledge that queers and indigenizes freedom. This is the affective and aesthetic engine that makes my writing possible. The goal is not just to advocate for our right to be free but to insist on it, to demand it. The poem is the terrain for this unruly and differently ruled insistence.
2. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, quoted in Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2015), 29.
3. Alex Wilson, “Our Coming In Stories: Cree Identity, Body Sovereignty, and Gender Self-Determination,” Journal of Global Indigeneity 1, issue 1 (2015): 1–5.