D.A. Lockhart on Tukhone
Interviewed for National Poetry Month April 2020
D A Lockhart, author of Big Medicine Comes to Erie (2016) and This City at the Crossroads (2017) is the publisher at Urban Farmhouse Press and a turtle clan citizen of the Moravian of the Thames First Nation.
One of the elements you requested to be incorporated into the cover design was a medicine wheel. Could you explain what it is and how it relates to Big Medicine Comes to Erie?
The medicine wheel is one of the fundamental symbols for Lunaape and many Turtle Island’s Indigenous peoples traditional beliefs. While the detail-level aspects can vary from specific cultures, the general takeaways you get from the Medicine Wheel is the interconnectivity of all of creation, the circular nature of life, and the movement of the seasons. Each of the colours on the wheel represent a season, (spring, summer, fall, winter) one of the four sacred medicines, (sweetgrass, sage, cedar, and tobacco) one of the cycles of life, and a cardinal direction. All of these are critical to our stories and ceremonies as a people. That’s a rather quick bit of a definition. Most folks spend a lifetime working out the intricacies of the culture and ceremonies behind it.
By placing it on the cover, the idea is to showcase that place these poems originate from comes from the belief system that is symbolized with the Medicine Wheel. This is not a Judeo-Christian take on the places we have come from and inhabit. This is not the history offered us by familiar history textbooks or government tourist brochures. The consciousness behind the poems in this collection finds its footing in the world view expressed by the Medicine Wheel. I suppose you could say it’s rather like placing a Cross or a Star of David in a visible place. In their very best ways, they act as a controlling metaphor for unlocking the unfamiliar aspects of the work.
In many of your poems you create a vignette of a place, be it Tecumseh road or the Ivy Rose, and you carefully pull the threads of the past through to the present. How do you feel the past influences the decisions we make today?
Our past is everything that we are today. We might not always know about our past in any great depth, or in fact at all, but the little bits of it that make our present day are everywhere. From street names to the way we orient our spaces and buildings to the languages we speak all come to shape the way we navigate our world. And there is a history behind all of it. Decisions that people, our ancestors or those that have held power over them, had made both consciously and unconsciously. I think that knowing our past not only helps us make better decisions – because we learn from the failures and successes of others that came before us – but it also affords us the respect we owe to creation and those that preceded us. The goal with many of these poems, and perhaps with much of my work in general, is to cast a lyric moment in time and allow the reader to experience something critical in it. I know that Buddhists have often referred to those moments of realization and discovery as satoris. That is likely the closest term I feel should apply to these moments. In those satoris we understand from that shared experience something that we did not understand before coming to that work. That moment, those understandings, are built upon concrete moments that use the threads of the past to sew together a stronger image of what we have before us in the present.
How much research was conducted into the history of the area to make this book possible?
Easy answer is a lot. All worthwhile writing stems from research. If you’re not researching as a writer you’re failing both the craft in general and the audience. Like I said before, the book grew out of my exploration of the history of the region and the specific history of the Lunaape coming to this area. When I first started work on Big Medicine Comes to Erie, I was fortunate enough to be working at an academic library in the metro Detroit area. I had access to all those wonderful article databases that typically only students and occasionally faculty get to work on. Using those resources I managed to collect a great wealth of materials on our regional history as well as the migration of the Lunaape people across Turtle Island. All totaled, I might say that there is at least about a month or two of just solid reading and note taking and consideration of that information in the research process. In addition to that very academic style of research, I went after more visceral or experiential based research. This means that many of the physical places that these poems inhabit, I went to and, maybe not so simply, experienced through my senses what that place and time felt like. So there was a great mix of book-level research and personal research. So yeah, I did a good amount of research before and while writing the pieces and the collection as a whole, often revisiting the essays and physical places as I reworked drafts of the pieces. I know that what is here in these pieces is a just a snapshot of a set of experiences, a portion of a picture or point of view from this region that had seen the voice of its Indigenous community marginalized to say the least. But research played an absolutely critical role in the writing of these pieces.
What do you hope readers will take away from this collection?
My general hope is obviously that readers will enjoy the work and share that enjoyment with others. But that hope is rooted in a larger hope that the voice and viewpoint embodied in the work reaches an audience that perhaps doesn’t realize the historical and contemporary presence and importance in southwestern Ontario of indigenous peoples. We have all witnessed many of the same events of the region’s history and even our same collective culture as Canadians. The way we look at it, or engage with those places and moments, is often vastly different. However, there are many, many instances where the reader should experience more universal human moments. Guess if you boiled it all down, I would say that that hope is that the reader comes away with a better understanding of the depth of the Indigenous experience in our shared region and that while we have strong and fundamentally different backgrounds we are interconnected in our past, our present, and perhaps most importantly our future.
Lockhart has a collection of Haibun and Haiku coming out this fall, titled Tukhone, of which we are excited to share a preview with you today. The Haibun are inspired by Detroit’s important musical talent while the haiku in the book follow the traditional Japanese sequencing of haiku for a collection by month/moon. The haiku is for the current month/moon, the Frog Moon.
Poems from Tukhone
Overturned desk railside
in muck of former cattails.
àskàskontpat paddles past.
Empty lot, he dances,
topless, with purpose. We
watch over Moscow mules.
In sunlight, mimosa
seedpods shake seven hundred
children who wait for spring.
To That Which Plays Watch over the Spring Wells
after The White Stripe’s “Hotel Yorba”
Between warehouses and car part suppliers, we search for fresh water trickles from inland karstian salt wells. We witness the Fisher Freeway carved low and shallow through this old treaty land signed over by Toctowayning, Lamahtanoquez, and Matahoopan. We glide through fractured neighbourhood streets, staring down classic Midwestern houses, past curb fulls of last decades automobiles. Watching with one eye to the other side of the river, imagining the reasons we don’t connect our dissonnet world, we move atop land we no longer can claim as wholly ours. The Dodge Stratus beneath us, with blown suspension, rattles back against cracked curbs, chipped paint homes, and dried-out neglected yards of the village become foyer to industrial park. Despite knowing better we chant “All they’ve got inside is vacancy.” As that last line lingers and we round the last trees of Clark Park, we witness the broad bulk of the hotel built for bridge workers. Sign, backlit in pigeons and mid-afternoon clouds, glares down upon us. Dares creation for a move.
from bridge tower to Fort,
puffs chest before traffic.