dalton derkson, in the forest with three peanuts
dalton derksen is a punk poet from the prairies. He runs Hurtin’ Crüe Press. This interview is part of a month-long series on “place” in contemporary Canadian writing.
Jessica Bebenek: You began writing poetry in your home town of Mortlach, Saskatchewan, moved to Ottawa to study Applied Linguistics at Carleton, and are now completing your first year at Guelph-Humber’s MFA program here in Toronto. How have the places you’ve lived and studied influenced your writing?
dalton derkson: i reckon the places i’ve lived thus far have been very strongly tied to the subject matter in my poems. that is, the people i write abt, the issues i attempt to deal with, it’s all rooted in the current space i find myself. when i was in saskatchewan i spent alotta time writing abt me, my roots nd the romantic sask landscape in general. i imagine this is because there were absolutely no fuckin people to be found anywhere so i resorted to trying to tell my own story. writing nd living in sask allotted me the opportunity to explore my metis/plains cree heritage nd how this heritage had been hidden from my sight by the institutionalized racism present in my home province/country.
ottawa also allowed me to explore those issues but thru the lens of a more political atmosphere. this turned out to also be straight-ahead intimidating which is why i took to writing abt youth, drinking, working fer minimum wage, nd just being common scum in general. ottawa is a tight collared city. there’s great bureaucracy hiding everywhere there which fucking ruled because it allowed me to be edgy nd start trying to push people’s buttons with my poems nd my performances. ottawa’s poetry scene is also incredibly influenced by canadian modernist traditions (see in/words), slam poetry (see cap slam), nd performance poetry (see jwcurry et al.), so while i felt like i was stepping out of a box there, i reckon i was just in line enough to gather the support of some very lovely poets in that city, which i’m perpetually grateful for.
tronno is a rage-filled hole i’m still tryin to navigate. the beautiful thing abt this place is the sheer amount of stories available to exploit here. i still often write thru the lyric ‘i’ but i reckon i am no longer the focal point of the poems. at least i try not to be. there are so many interesting motherfuckers here with wild stories nd i’m amazed they’ve not beaten me to the punch in getting their experiences on the page.
Jessica Bebenek: Is there a place where you feel your poetry is at home? And is that the same place that you consider ‘home’?
dalton derkson: i feel my poetry is at home in canada in general. i may identify as a punk poet from the prairies but in reality that’s just me as a bag of flesh. i hope the work i put out is relatable to most canadians. left wing, right wing, maritimer nd even people from that one great city of winnipeg can hopefully touch upon something i’m writing abt. we all live the same winters (save maybe the hippies in vancouver) nd we all deal with the same issues re: indigenous rights, women’s rights, nd our having a govt that currently doesn’t seem too keen on respecting its people’s wishes. plus most people i know here drink—so at very least i reckon they can relate to those poems.
Jessica Bebenek: What does it mean to identify as a ‘Canadian’ poet? Do you?
dalton derkson: i have a real hard time with this question. realistically i wanna just say that writing in canada makes you a canadian poet but i can’t get behind that with my whole heart.
the fact of the matter in my eyes is that to be a ’canadian’ poet you oughta be writing abt the world as it sits here. whether that involves simply bringing shit like the montreal biodome or the number 1 highway into yr poems, or writing a full blown piece abt how harper’s got ya bent over a barrel, i feel like the issues of this country, the people nd the space itself should be felt in the work.
however, poetry is an expansive art of possibility, so all our work is gonna look unique in one way or another. we cannot prescribe upon this art form, it’s too damn wily. there is no definite canadian form, nor is modernism necessarily more ’canadian’ than post-modernism. at the end of the day i just love knowing a fellow poet is canadian because we can inhabit the same space nd work towards a unified voice nd a solidified canon of our own work. a canon that will hopefully be taught to the grandchildren someday. akin to the ways in which america drills their writers into their kids’ heads.
Jessica Bebenek: For you, is identifying as a Canadian poet more about a literary history you’re drawing from and a context your work fits into, or about revitalizing/forwarding the tradition?
dalton derkson: just judging by the way i’ve answered these questions thus far i’d be a king hell liar if i said being a canadian poet for me didn’t involve drawing from our literary history. i feel like the work of the montreal modernists never really came to fruition. at least not in the way people like dudek, page nd all them hoped. as far as i can tell my contemporaries are still heavily influenced by american writers. nd this isn’t to say that this is a bad thing, but why replicate the works of bukowski nd the beats when you could rip off al purdy, nd fred wah nd gwendolyn macewen. the rungs are already on the ladder. we have things to build upon here in our own country. read whatever you want i guess but don’t ignore where yer from.
nd of course in keeping with this, it is definitely abt revitalizing that spirit. we’ll never be those poets but we’re nonetheless writing in their shadows; shadows with some really good shit hiding in them. nd as far as i’m concerned, it’s not stealing if someone left it in yr backyard.
on a personal note, i write the way i do because i’ve found some of these treasures hidden in our country’s work over the years. spelling the way we speak, telling our people’s stories, nd striving for clarity has been around fer ages. read william henry drummond, harry robinson, nd bill bissett nd try to tell me there’s no common thread hidden along that line. the wheel’s worked perfectly fine thus far, bud. there’s no need gettin too wild with yr re-inventing of it. experiment as you wish, but don’t forget the physics nd integrity of yr vehicle.
Jessica Bebenek: What does it mean for a poem/poet to fit into the tradition of Canadian poetry? Is it the place where the poet is writing from, or an idea of ‘place’ within the poetry? (Or something else entirely?)
dalton derkson: attitude i guess. if you see yrself as a canadian poet, then i suppose you are one. but if you make an effort to recognize our space in the world/in poetry, yer extra good in my books.
then again what the fuck do i matter. write however you want at the end of the day. i’ll be here sippin beer in a snowstorm whenever you feel like getting stereotypical.
dalton derkson is a punk poet from the prairies. He runs Hurtin’ Crüe Press, a D.I.Y. collective through which he has self-published too many chapbooks. Some time ago, he was super kicked by The Party Animal and his poems haven’t been the same since. His work has appeared in ottawater, (parenthetical), and In/Words magazine.