Joshua Whitehead is an Ojibwe Cree, Two-Spirit storyteller and academic from Peguis First Nation on Treaty 1 territory in Manitoba. He is currently working toward a Ph.D. in Indigenous literatures and cultures at the University of Calgary on Treaty 7 territory. His most recent book of poetry is Full-Metal Indigiqueer which precedes his debut novel, Jonny Appleseed. Follow him on Twitter @JWhitehead204.
Joshua prefers to write about Indigeneity, and more specifically, 2SQ (Two-Spirit, queer Indigeneity). He is strongly influenced by the orality of Leanne Simpson and Lee Maracle, along with the powerful metaphors of Billy-Ray Belcourt and Gwen Benaway. His poetic style is usually lyrical, experimental, and intertextual, he likes to use repetition and anaphora to help structure his poems, along with a multitude of voices to help his speakers sing.
I did! When I was a teenager my favourite poem was Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” because it taught me so much about the rhythm of music, the way the body is intertwined with the lyricism, and how to perform poetry and lend the page over to orality.
I’ve always been writing little poems, sonnets, lyrics. The first poem I can remember I wrote when I was in kindergarten for my mother (who saved it and brings it out from time to time). The first time I thought of myself as a poet must have been in high school — those are foundational years, I feel, and I was very much encouraged by my high school teachers to explore poetry. It’s simultaneously an easy and difficult form but I feel poetry, more so than prose, lets you explore yourself in a more nuanced manner.
To listen carefully to the world, to pay attention to its politics, its systemics, its issues, and to speak truthfully and honestly about how the world filters through your body. As Thomas King once said, “everything is story.” It’s our job to create a story that represents yourself and those you are accountable to (your communities) in honest, healthy, and powerful ways.
"full-metal oji-cree" was inspired by my interest in science fiction/speculative fiction, comics, my communities, and my fear of the apocalypse. I wanted to write Indigeneity out of the past and ghost it into the future — what better way, I thought, than to demonstrate how we are super heroes, cyborgs, mutants, and powerful peoples already and what we will accomplish thinking about ourselves as such.
I am still smitten by Aisha Sasha John. I believe her poem “Regardless” is a powerful howl into the void of the world that demonstrates how language is a weapon —one that stakes one’s claim into the world unabashedly and deservedly. That, and the language is so evocative, a short sentence tells vignettes, or snippets, of story and is written in such a lyrical way. Plus, anaphora is always helpful for memorizing and reciting.