The Sixth Sense of Decolonial Thought: David Eso in Conversation
with Billy-Ray Belcourt

Billy-Ray Belcourt

Malahat poetry board member David Eso talks with Billy-Ray Belcourt, poetry contributor to the Indigenous Perspectives Issue and winner of the 2017 P. K. Page Founders' Award for Poetry for his poem, "Love is a Moontime Teaching."


Billy-Ray Belcourt is from the Driftpile Cree Nation. He is a 2016 Rhodes Scholar and is reading for an M.St. in Women’s Studies at the University of Oxford. In 2016, he was named by CBC Books (à la Tracey Lindberg) as one of six Indigenous writers to watch, and his poetry has been published in AssaracusRed Rising MagazineSAD Magmâmawi-âcimowakThe Yellow Medicine ReviewThe Malahat Review, and PRISM international. His first book, THIS WOUND IS A WORLD, is forthcoming in the fall with Frontenac House.

In contrast to the unexpected insights of your poetry, your "A Poltergeist Manifesto" takes greater pains to justify its position than that genre necessarily demands. In effect, you've composed a hybrid manifesto-article with "Poltergeist..." and formal hybridity aligns with the feral-becoming that you argue for. So, if manifesto shouts while the article quietly explicates its internal logics, what is the distinct work that you ask poetry to do?

Academic writing is stuck in the rut of structure, argumentation, and objectivity, and in "A Poltergeist Manifesto" you can see and hear and maybe feel me clawing at an edge, looking for something of an escape route, a portal, a hole in the wall that I didn't know was there. Poetry is about excess, in that it exceeds language, it exceeds thought. Maybe we should start thinking about poets as poltergeists and about poetry as the sixth sense of decolonial thought. Which is to say that poetry pulls us into a structure of feeling that warps normal perception, that demands that we see things otherwise, that we squint, and that we let what we see alter us, that we refuse to shut up about what we see, because what we see might give us a sneak peak into how we might go about being in the world in a way that enables all types of flourishing—Indigenous flourishing, earthly flourishing, trans flourishing, and so on.

In "Love is a Moontime Teaching," your poem which won the 2017 P. K. Page Founders' Award for Poetry, you write that "love […] is another word for body" and that "the word for hate sex is forest." Does this suggest that each word carries with it semantic analogs for queerness or alterity? If words can speak their biological or ecological other, as your poem dramatizes, does this vision expose textuality as mere veneer? Or, does the transposable nature of the phenomenological and textual realms ennoble discourse?

On the one hand, we have to be careful with words, because they can injure and threaten one's sense of the present's habitability. But, words also world; they can be pulled apart and enfleshed differently. This is what "Love is a Moontime Teaching" is about: enfleshing words differently. There is something about indigeneity and queerness, about queer indigeneity, that makes words fall flat, that allows us to put meaning to rebellious use. How we speak words, the emotional content that we invest in them, leaves them radically open to resignification.

Anymore is a feeling, and it is one with which those of us who have been stopped or harassed by the police because of a semiotics of indigeneity that routes us into death-worlds are familiar. It is the feeling of being made into something else, of being drawn outside your body. It wears you down and it keeps happening. Anymore is what it would feel like if a body could rust, if it was slowly crumbling, like a statue that couldn't stand the test of time.

"Love is a Moontime Teaching" treats skin, and by extension racial difference, as both metaphor and material: "amok is the border that the skin doesn't remember how to secure anymore." Could elaborate how a politically potent and re-claimed sense of indigenous "ferality" (as opposed to a European sense of "savagery" or "barbarity") stands apart from what you call in "Poltergeist…" "teleologies of the anarchic or lawless as they emerge in Western thought"?

If the skin is a border, and "Love is a Moontime Teaching" insists it is, the color of the skin, the meaning installed in it, and the histories of violence and of resistance that animate it matter. Amok is a body splitting at the seams; it is a body leaking all over the place. This is the feeling of indigeneity, this is what colonialism has done and is doing to us. It is stealing our bodies and getting away with it. It, which is to say murderous white men, police and correctional officers, judges, educators, doctors, politicians (etc.) are getting away with our bodies.

Given widespread efforts to further Indigenous flourishing, I wonder if you could tell our readers about specific artists, leaders, or movements that you see as contributing particularly productive methods to "dream[ing] up worlds that can bear all of us"? Where do you see hopeful points of connection with your vision that "resurrection is its own form of decolonial love."

In 1963, Frantz Fanon taught us that decolonization "sets out to change the order of the world," and, in my opinion, it is by way of poetry, art, and theory that another world can be imagined. So, poets like Samantha Marie Nock (Metis), artists like Tanya Lukin-Linklater (Alutiiq), and theorists like Karyn Recollect (Cree) and Eve Tuck (Unangax) are expanding the future imaginary, which is the project of enacting a new ethics of seeing and of being in the world that refuses the violence of the present, a world in which Indigenous suffering permeates all domains of life. I am also immeasurably beholden to the late queer theorist José Esteban Muñoz, whose Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity roped me into a way of thinking about the future that made and continues to make the present more livable.


David Eso

David Eso

* * * * * * * *