Totem Poles and Railroads succinctly defines the 500-year-old relationship between Indigenous nations and the corporation of Canada. In this, her fifth poetry collection, Janet Rogers expands on that definition with a playful, culturally powerful and, at times, experimental voice. She pays honour to her poetic characters—real and imagined, historical and present day—from Sacajawea to Nina Simone. Placing poetry at the centre of our current post-residential school/present-day reconciliation reality, Rogers’ poems are expansive and intimate, challenging, thought-provoking and always personal. 

Part of our Indigenous Collection.

Janet Rogers is as fearless as an eagle feather and as forensic as a tomahawk. This Indigenous Canadian poet says what E.Pauline Johnson (Tekahionwake) wanted to say, but couldn’t, because the time wasn’t ripe, a century back, for a voice that is unhindered by politesse and undiplomatic in outrage. But now’s the time for Janet Rogers, who knows that our lopped-down forests are “not / romantic trees / with sentiment / running beneath,” but represent a wilderness colonized by a society where “injustice rains / upon us constant.” Love the directness of this poet, who is about peace-seeking: “we have adopted / each other / and adapted / to living / like this.” Rogers moves easily among all the registers of Canuck poetics, from giving us symbolic imagery (“… words left flapping / like tattered flags / over parliament’s decaying / brick home”) to giving us raw truth (“the tears of a prime minister / won’t wipe away racism”). Pick up Janet Rogers, this powerful, Red-letter woman, and find yourself feeling uncomfortable, but no longer uninformed.

George Elliott Clarke, Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2016-17)

These new poems by Janet Rogers are a straight shot metaphysical call to action in the wake of historical trauma, police violence, shameful treatment of our body Earth. They stand as urgent witness, clear talk in the face of colonized law built on lies. Rogers reminds us to pay attention, to listen. These words can heal.

Joy Harjo, Mvskoke Nation, poet and musician

To give Rogers’ poems a form, a body, I would have to name them blackbirds, formidable winged creatures who’ve chosen the highest branch and whose eyes allow us the vision we so often cannot see ourselves. I’m honoured to be called into this ceremony, sung awake by her prayers. Praise for Totem Poles and Railroads.

Gregory Scofield, author of Witness, I am

Janet Rogers’ latest book Totem Poles and Railroads doesn’t pull any punches. All of the stinging and difficult realities of colonialism are confronted head-on and with ferocity. Rogers is here to disrupt these white landscapes. Rogers is here to call out all of the bullshit both past and present. Totem Poles and Railroads is burning to be read.

Jordan Abel, Nisga’a Nation, author of Injun

In the late 1870’s the Prime Minister of Canada, John A. MacDonald implemented his national program. One of the main aspects of the program was the building of a transcontinental railroad to bring the what is now the province of British Columbia into the national fold. The building of the railroad had a tremendous impact on the First Nations across the country. It brought a flood of people from the East to the West and along with them land grabs and disease. Totem Poles and Railroads is a powerful story of that part of Canadian history. Telling that story from a poetic perspective allows the reader to reflect on a too-often forgotten part of Canada’s history. It is a powerful story that all Canadians should read.

Leroy Little Bear, Professor Emeritus

University of Lethbridge

‘my hands are solar panels

to praise and release

I am reaching deep

inside healing

feeling the burn’

Rogers reaches deep inside issues, headlines and narratives to find the heat, the warmth, to show it to us. As always, she brings her trademark cadence that echoes a soft bass line and feels as cathartic as good jazz. These poems are new and fresh but also the continuation of a very long conversation, and Rogers has that gifted sort of voice and brilliant perspective that weave together rhyme and reason. She sings, she challenges, she rips open the world and shows us something better. Her rhythm is resolute. Her words are smoke that rises above the fray.

Katherena Vermette, Governor General’s Award-winning author of The Break and North End Love Songs

Subject Poetry
Published November 2016
Price $18.95 CDN
Pages 168 pp (Paper)
Dimensions 6″ × 9″ × .5″
ISBN-10 1894037871
ISBN-13 9781894037877

Related Titles

About the Author

Janet Rogers is a Mohawk/Tuscarora writer from the Six Nations territory living on the traditional territories of the Songhees and Esquimalt peoples on Vancouver Island. Totem Poles and Railroads is Janet’s fifth poetry collection developed during her term as UNBC’s 2015/2016 Writer in Residence and OCAD’s NIGIG Visiting Artist Residency in 2016.

Voice, sound and audio textures are an important part of Janet’s poetry recordings and she can be heard hosting her radio program Native Waves Radio on CFUV fm and introducing the six-part radio documentary NDNs on the Airwaves, which she also produced.

Whether she is delivering a spirited spoken word presentation or letting the poetry speak for itself in her performance and media art, her impactful messaging is balanced by her soothing vocal tones producing a multi-faceted poetry experience reflective of the broad capacity of this artist.