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Britta B speaking at the 2023 NorthWords gala
Britta B speaking at the 2023 NorthWords gala. Megan Miskiman/Cabin Radio

‘If you have that heartbeat, listen to it and show up’

Meet Jordan Abel and Britta B, two of the stars of this year’s NorthWords festival, which began in Yellowknife and Fort Smith earlier this week and runs through until Sunday.

This weekend’s panels and workshops, some of which are free to attend, include a number of northern authors alongside writers and artists from across Canada.

Jordan Abel, a Griffin poetry prize winner currently living in Edmonton, will be offering a workshop on Writing About What Matters, as well as appearing on panels about Considering the Genre of Poetry and Writing Creative Nonfiction.

Describing himself as a queer, urban Nisga’a person, Abel says he struggled growing up with the lack of representation in media and literature, something he tries to tackle in his writing.

“There’s a lot of particularities to my being and existing in the world,” he told Cabin Radio.



“My subject position is often completely absent from the kinds of media that are easily accessible in the world, so my goal as a writer has become to put myself out there so that I can address those gaps, and so that others with similar positions are able to see themselves in my work.”

Abel’s most recent book, Nishga, is a poetry collection that covers topics such as intergenerational trauma, Indigenous dispossession, sexual and physical violence, and mental health. Writing about sensitive issues is something Abel has done in all of his books, starting with The Place of Scraps, which revolves around an early 20th-century ethnographer who, while attempting to protect Indigenous people, played an active role in the colonization and dismantling of their culture.

His second poetry collection, Un/inhabited, searches through 91 western novels for political and social aspects of land, territory and ownership, to create a study of the public domain as an inhabitable nation. He then released Injun, which explores colonialism through the deconstruction of western texts.

Jordan Abel reading at the 2023 NorthWords gala. Megan Miskiman/Cabin Radio

Abel says his approach to writing is to discuss serious topics through intense honesty and vulnerability. This approach is what he hopes to bring to those participating in his workshop.



“I often talk about my work as problem-based work. I set out with a very particular goal of writing about a problem or an issue that I feel needs to be addressed,” he explained.

“The most important thing you can do as a writer when addressing these issues is to be honest and to be vulnerable on the page.

“Putting yourself forward in that way can be an incredibly difficult thing to do. There are a lot of things that are really terrifying to put out into the world, and that fear never really goes away, but they’re also stories that need to be told – they deserve to be told.”

Abel’s newest book and first work of fiction, Empty Spaces, will be released in August this year.

On the edge of creating something

Toronto-based spoken-word poet Britta B just published her first book, full-length poetry collection Wires that Sputter, and joins NorthWords as a workshop host in performance.

Britta says poetry has always been her way of expressing herself, even before she knew what poetry was. She began performing spoken word as a means to allow her ideas to be shared with the world, in the same way she says they flow through her.

“I know that I can create colour, and create musical and rhythmic moments with my lyrics and with my poetry,” she said.

“It’s important to be able to share my voice in this vein, because it’s something that really allows me to feel true to myself.”



For Britta, performing poems about vulnerable topics doesn’t necessarily make her anxious toward the audience, but rather with those who are close with her and don’t have the same understanding of her as she does herself – something she hopes to explore with workshop participants this weekend.

“To be vulnerable is to be honest, as much as you can with yourself,” she said.

“Some of that is being in a place where you, yourself, feel safe with the pieces you’re sharing, and you feel OK with people approaching the poetry or the performance and knowing how to handle those conversations.”

Both Abel and Britta say they’re most looking forward to connecting with other writers and potentially becoming mentors.

“I didn’t have someone like me when I was growing up,” said Britta.

“My hope is that something that I’m able to offer will be a sort of pebble, or gem, for someone to grow and find connections within their own writing, life and art.”

If you’re worried about attending a workshop for fear of sharing your work, Britta says that fear should motivate you further.

“If you have a nervousness, that tells me you are on the edge of creating something,” she said.

“Any time I feel my heart beat in my chest, I remind myself: wow, I’m living, I’m alive, but also, there’s this power, this thing that wants to come through me.

“If you have that heartbeat, if you have shivers or tingles, listen to that, and show up, and see what happens.”