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Bearing witness

Poet and author Jordan Abel deconstructs the very notion of genre in his multivalent new work

Nishga

Jordan Abel

McClelland & Stewart

GRIFFIN POETRY PRIZE WINNER Jordan Abel (Nisga’a) presents readers with his fourth book, a multi-modal memoir and cultural document that uses the techniques of collage, overlaying, and juxtaposition – among others – to tell a story about intergenerational trauma and its wide-ranging effects.

While this is a memoir, it covers many generations, which sets it apart from other books in the category and complicates the very notion of what memoir can do. Simultaneously, Nishga is an extended lyric essay, in the vein of Claudia Rankine’s work. It’s part of a genre that expects meaning to accrue through what Amy Bonnaffons cites (in “Bodies of Text: On the Lyric Essay”) as featured elements: gaps in the text, use of white space, “nodes,” and “networks.” In some ways, Nishga is also a long poem.

What this ought to illustrate is that Abel’s book isn’t easily slotted into one genre; this choice to use many approaches – to be hybrid, complicated, and difficult to label – is fundamental to understanding the text. The slipperiness in Nishga allows the form to more fully represent traumatic content with a power that words or images alone might struggle to harness.

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Spring Kidlit Special New books by Jeremy and Hermione Tankard, Tom Ryan and Robin Stevenson, and Lindsay Wong