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UNBC writer focused on ‘immediate voice’

Poetry and the spoken word have always been the chosen form of creative expression for the new writer in residence at the University of Northern B.C.
Janet Rogers, award-winning author and Victoria’s former poet laureate, is the latest writer in residence at UNBC.

Poetry and the spoken word have always been the chosen form of creative expression for the new writer in residence at the University of Northern B.C.

"I like the idea of the immediate voice," said Janet Rogers, a spoken word poet, writer and Victoria's former poet laureate.

"I like the idea of communicating messages through voice and I think there's something that goes hand-in-hand with poetry and spoken word and radio."

"I think that's where I find my comfort, I'm comfortable there."

Rogers, a Victoria resident for 21 years, will be staying in Prince George for four months working on her passion project, holding readings and talks on the various campuses, and even working one-on-one with UNBC students.

She plans to work with students taking English and creative writing courses as well as the indigenous student body, and hopefully "create these bridges of relationships."

The writer has produced four poetry collections, performed on three poetry CDs and produced two award-winning radio documentaries.

While at UNBC, she's working on adding another radio documentary to the mix. The six-part series is called 'NDN on the airwaves' and the piece she's working on now is about northern radio.

"It's just looking at our current history," she said, of indigenous voices on radio.

Rogers also plans on turning the same story into a radio play.

She recently spoke to three native musicians from the Northwest Territories about the part radio plays in their community and what it's done for their careers.

"It's just so amazing that radio, like sports say for example, reflects the region where you come from," Rogers said.

"It's kind of a distinct voice, if you will, that reflects the people."

Rogers discovered radio in 2007, when she contacted the University of Victoria's local radio station.

"In early days the radio I was producing, it wasn't pretty," she said with a laugh.

"I stuck with it. It became so, so much fun."

But a year later, she got a call from CBC Victoria about doing a music column that became Tribal Clefs, which she'll return to once her four months in Prince George is up. But being off air wasn't an option for Rogers; she's already spoken to the campus station - CFUR - and will have a show Thursdays at noon.

Rogers said she sees indigenous stories and music crossing over into the mainstream.

"The native music scene is exploding. We're kind of breaking out of that kind of pigeon hole, or that whole barrier that keeps indigenous music separate from mainstream (music)," she said pointing to recent Polaris winners Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq in 2014 and Buffy Sainte-Marie in 2015.

Rogers also praised CBC's weekly show Unreserved, broadcast out of Winnipeg, and telling indigenous stories Sundays at 7 p.m.

"I think we're making huge strides culturally by sharing what we have and what we're proud of and the things that identify us and make us unique cultural people. We're sharing that with everybody and I think that's getting picked up," she said.

"It's not all feathers and drums."

As a "transplanted Mohawk" from southern Ontario, Rogers said it important she connect with the new community and land.

When she arrived on campus, one of the first things she did was walk to a crop of trees, tobacco in hand.

"It is my custom to go into those areas where you can silence those outside voices, and put some tobacco down," she said.

"You do that as a sign of respect. You introduce yourself to the land and you introduce your intentions to the land."

Rogers has been to Prince George before, as a feature writer at the Weaving Words Celebration. This time, she'll be at Wednesday's opening as local writer in residence.

The festival, now in its tenth year, kicks off at 10 a.m. at UNBC's Canfor Winter Garden and will also feature author and journalist Waubgeshig Rice and the unveiling of a community art project in the Teaching & Learning Centre Atrium at noon.