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There's a War Going On! Janet Rogers Writes Dispatches From the Front Lines

Alex Jacobs says "Janet Rogers is a leading voice on the frontlines of the war on Indigenous peoples." A review of her poetry book "Peace in Duress."
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Mohawk poet Janet Marie Rogers’ fourth poetry book, Peace in Duress, should be the charm and there’s no reason to claim you haven’t heard or read her work. Unless hanging out in the Ivory Towers of Academia is a thing anymore, these days you need get out into the real world where poetry can still stoke passion, create momentum and move a mass of people, and no one does “Keeping It Real” better than Ms. Rogers. 

Janet Rogers has put in 20 artistic and activist years in the Victoria/Vancouver area, giving thanks and acknowledgements at every event for living on the traditional lands of the Coast Salish people. Since 2012, Janet has served as Poet Laureate of Victoria, where she’s also basically channeled the work and performance aesthetic of famous turn of the century Mohawk poet, E. Pauline Johnson, whose ashes are interned there in Stanley Park. Janet was born in Vancouver of Mohawk/Tuscarora heritage, her family is from Six Nations Ontario; she’s crossed the continent several times in her life with her most recent highlights include residencies at The Banff Center and Santa Fe, a feature reading at the Lincoln Center in NYC, performances at The Talking Stick Festival in Vancouver, Santa Fe’s Indian Market, and The LOFT Literary Center in Minneapolis. Her poetry CDs Firewater (2009), Got Your Back (2012) and 6 Directions (2013), have all been nominated in spoken word categories by all the Native Music Award programs. She’s won awards for her radio documentaries Bring Your Drum (50 years of indigenous protest music) and Resonating Reconciliation at the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Festival, 2013. Janet hosts the Native Waves Radio program on CFUV FM ( and Tribal Clefs on CBC Radio 1 in Victoria BC.

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It’s always been the spoken word for Janet. She had been painting and making drums for her artistic release when she returned to the west coast from Toronto. She fell into poetry and spoken word, because that’s what was needed by her community. The NW has always been a nurturing place for Native Women to find their power, and Janet’s Mohawk background demanded that Native people and especially Native women be heard and respected. Her first book, Splitting the Heart (Ekstasis Editions 2007) came with a CD of her poems. Her second book, Unearthed (Leaf Press 2011) was the strongest collection of poems I’ve read in a very long time. 90 actual pages of poetry divided among love, politics and identity, back in the day it would’ve been 3 strong chapbooks. Another book, Red Erotic, on her own brand Ojistah Publishing 2010, is a collection of Native American/First Peoples' erotica poetry in words and images.

RELATED:"Giving a Shit," an Idle No More Poem by Janet Rogers

I have read so many poets (and artists’ manifestos) that basically baffle you with bullshit and word play and deliver no substance as you check yourself to see if you been robbed of something valuable, besides the time to read or endure it. But you will be rewarded by her poetry…she will fill your pockets and your hearts with things you can use in everyday life and struggles. Other people have said it better about her work, “funny and powerful”, “haunting and devastating”, “there’s no place to hide in her poetry”, “she holds nothing back”, “fierce and rightfully righteous!”

Rogers is a leading voice on the frontlines of the war that governments and corporations have declared on Indigenous peoples, their cultures, the land and the environment, treating them all as resources to be exploited. If you didn’t know that "there’s a war going on" Ms. Rogers reminds you from start to finish and asks you in every piece which side are you on.

Peace in Duress is published by Talonbooks, and they provide a great platform for Janet’s work. You can hear her spoken word poems with sound and music tracks at Janet's page on the Talonbooks site. She's also got a Soundcloud archive with new and older recordings. The Peace in Duress Facebook page has information about readings and photos from events.

Janet also has a good ear for producing of her own sound tracks, she broke on the scene doing poetry videos and has collaborated with Native DJ’s and musicians and now plays with her new sound production toys. This is from “3 Day Road”, a piece written about her road trip from New Mexico to Vancouver Island. She is alone with no one to argue with so she takes it all in, the land that Native Peoples have always been fighting for.

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ice water now the temperature of tea sustains until the next rez stop, re stop,

re start life elevated in Utah, gawd hours honoured in Arizona tumbleweeds and raw earth,

looks like open battle wounds gorges burnt earth sagebrush holy land hot souls long roads

ash-fault bill-borders built on the backs of black hispanics descent warnings foreshadowing

rocks falling sun blocked bright rays make way for end-of-day rain don’t drink the poison,

don’t you dare sigh with boredom hot winds die pulling down cloud poetry faces,

places, displaces, wide-open Red horses of courses

Janet told me: “There is no 'Peace In Duress' poem ... the collection speaks to being solid, a strong sense of self-knowing, rooted and grounded in culture and from there anything is possible. It’s like knowing who you are and what to do when needed to do it—saying what needs to be said for the betterment of community, sitting in deep meditation in the middle of chaos or mobilizing without fear or panic when needed.” Ms. Rogers then left the conversation because she had to get ready for a panel titled "With Great Poetry Comes Great Responsibility" at Canada's Festival of Spoken Word (CFSW 2014), which took place last week in Victoria BC. She was a big part of it, with her tenure as Victoria’s Poet Laureate coming to an end in 2015.

RELATED:"In Like a Lion," a Poem by Janet Marie Rogers for the Spring Equinox

I worked with Janet Rogers on our collaborative CD project, Got Your Back, and the formation of the Ikkwenyes Collective and I recognized her as a force of nature. The white and purple image on the cover reflects the Iroquoian use of wampum, day and night, peace and war, life and death, and Janet carries the wampum and the message. An image of her is juxtaposed to the four directions and it appears as she is Sky Woman, a Mohawk Culture Hero, and so wherever injustice lurks in the Native World, Ms. Rogers will be there to fight back occupying a space on the front lines and leading the charge. Read, enjoy, take a stand, and give a shit.

Alex Jacobs
Santa Fe NM