This is Travellers’ Lexicon, a long poem in the form of a phrasebook, about travel and colonisation, connection and difference. It was first published in a limited run of 130 for the Edinburgh International Book Festival, with copies given freely to attendees; it is not currently available for purchase, but you can download a free pdf of the book, or read the specially-prepared interactive digital edition. The text is also released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/), which means you can freely share and adapt it as long as you credit me somewhere.
This poem was written for the Outriders project, which sent me on a journey from Montréal to Winnipeg to Churchill, travelling with the writer Katherena Vermette. I was primarily researching language and settler-colonisaton, with a particular focus on the role of my home, Orkney, in the colonisation of Manitoba. Thanks to the Edinburgh International Book Festival, who chose me to be one of the five Scottish writers for Outriders. Outriders was supported through the Scottish Government’s Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund. I wrote ongoing reflections, a companion to this poem, at harrygiles.org/categories/outriders.
Taking this journey (which is not over) and writing this work (which is a start) has meant a lot of support and help from many people. Thanks to Cléo Sallis-Parchet and all at the British Council Canada, and to Nick Barley, Jenny Niven, Cat Tyre and Ioannis Kalkounos at EIBF for organising and supporting the project all the way through, plus to Chris DiRaddio, Shelley Pomerance, and Tiphanie Flores at Blue Met / Metropolis Bleu for their hosting. In Montréal, thanks to Natasha Kanapé-Fontaine, Jonathan Lamy, Rachel McCrum and Kai Cheng Thom for brilliant conversations. In Winnipeg, thanks to Reuben Boulette for history, humour and driving. In Churchill, thanks to Karen Blackbourn, Leonard Macpherson, Bill Calman and Mike Spence for education, connections and ideas, plus to all at the Churchill Community Bulletin Board for good discussion. In Edmonton, thanks to Kalea Turner-Beckman and Gavin Renwick for fine hosting and encouragement. Thanks to all who’ve read, commented, shared stories and given me links. Most of all, thanks to Katherena Vermette for agreeing to be part of this project, and for being very generous with conversation and with time.
I take responsibility for these words in this form, but many of these entries draw from words spoken by others to me in conversation or public discussion and should be credited. Aurora, Grain and Weight draw on anecdotes told to me by Bill Calman. Solidarity quotes John Donne. Museum draws heavily on the academic writing of Dr Darcy Leigh. Shame and Guilt draw on Layli Long Soldier in conversation with Krista Tippett. Diversity, Inclusion and Manners draw on a public exchange between myself, Ann-Marie Macdonald and Kai Cheng Thom. Statue references my collaboration with Paolo Perdicini. Ceremony, Informant, Realness and Safe draw on David Treuer in conversation with Duncan McCue. Card, Facebook, Gritty, Ice, Pride and Truth draw on my conversations with Katherena Vermette.
Though I have written from my own experience, this poem and my approach to the journey was informed extensively by the work of indigenous scholars, artists and activists writing and working in decolonisation and associated fields. My primary encounter with this work is through poetry, fiction and memoir. My reading list during this journey offers one small route into this large and vital field:
Josephine Bacon et al, Terres de Trickster (Possibles 2016)
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, This Accident of Being Lost (Anansi 2017)
Maria Campbell, Half-Breed (University of Nebraska 1982)
Ma-Nee Chacaby, A Two-Spirit Journey (University of Manitoba 2016)
Gord Hill, The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book (Arsenal Pulp 2010)
Natasha Kanapé-Fontaine, Assi Manifesto (Mawenzi House 2016)
Layli Long Soldier, Whereas (Graywolf 2017)
Hope Nicholson (ed.), Moonshot: the Indigenous Comics Collection (AH! Comics 2015)
Louis Riel, The Diaries of Louis Riel (Flanagan ed., Edmonton 1976)
Walter Scott, Wendy’s Revenge (Koyama 2016)
David Treuer, The Translation of Dr Appelles (Vintage 2008)
Katherena Vermette, The Break (Anansi 2016)
Katherena Vermette, North End Love Songs (Muses’ Company 2012)
This poem is published in 2017, and so I also recommend reading and supporting the work of #Resistance150, a diverse and disruptive project resisting ongoing colonisation.