Interview with Shane Rhodes
An interview with Shane Rhodes by Jonathan Hadwen
You were recently Arts Queensland Poet in Residence in Brisbane for three months. Is this your first residency, and if not, which other residencies have you been involved in?
This was my first official residency outside of Canada. I say “official” as I have taken many unofficial sabbaticals and lived and wrote for extended periods in Mexico and Argentina.
What do you think can be gained from residencies, and can you give an example from your Queensland visit?
A residency or sabbatical offers the opportunity to think, to work on a project, to research, and to interact with a new community and learn and interact with new artists. One thing I gained from the Queensland residency was the opportunity to see the thriving indigenous art scene that is in Brisbane. I also had the opportunity to think through a project I am currently completing which is looking at the journals of a number of early Canadian and Australian explorers around the late 1700s – I find this time period of so-called “discovery” interesting as it set in motion ideas of settlement and colonization under which was are still living.
You write a lot of found poetry - was this something you developed early in your poetry practice, or was it a particular text you found that inspired you to explore this form?
I have written much poetry that isn’t found. The found poetry that I am currently working on and which I wrote for my last book, X, really comes from a political and aesthetic choice. I wanted to write about colonization, history and discover and it seemed that working with existing colonial texts just made sense as they are the original documents of finding and discovery. I decided, in effect, to use the idea of “finding” which these texts contain as a way to take the texts apart. This is some of the thinking behind the treaty poems I created where I worked with Canada’s Post-Confederation Treaties (these were “agreements” that were signed between the British Crown and the Government of Canada and First Nations bands across Canada to allow for the wholesale appropriation of land for Canadian settlement and economic exploitation). These are documents that are integral to understanding Canada and its continued colonization efforts and to understanding the psychology of Canada’s settler society.
These are topics that are usually anathema to ideas of lyrical or traditional poetry, poetry which usually doesn't do well looking at such ugly truths. However, found poetry is a very useful tactic to interact with these ideas and documents and to create a new space for art.
I know you have a day job with the Government of Canada and that this work sometimes finds its way into your work. Are you someone who wishes they could be a full-time artist, or someone who is happier not depending on their art to make a living?
I would love to be independently wealthy and be able to dedicate my time completely to reading, thinking and writing; however, that is hard to do with poetry. As I do have to work to make money, I enjoy having a job that allows me to live but also allows me to do such things as move to Australia for four months to write. At the same time, having a job allows me to pursue projects that aren’t going to necessarily be profitable or even that popular. Working within the Government of Canada has also given me a very good perspective on understanding how governments control and mediate the national mythology and the ideas of history we in settler societies have. This perspective was very useful with my last book looking at Canada’s colonial history and present.