Listen: Poems from Peace in Duress by Janet Rogers

Peace in Duress is the latest collection of poetry by Mohawk spoken-word artist Janet Rogers, who is the current poet laureate of Victoria, BC. The poems in Peace in Duress draw on the language of the earth and inflected with the outspoken vocality of activism address the crises of modern “land wars” – environmental destruction, territorial disputes, and resource depletion. This collection is confessional love, learned survival, ardent resistance, and unique poetry that wants to be spoken (aloud). If poetry is medicine, Peace in Duress is a cabinet full.

One of our favourite poems from Peace in Duress is “Forever.” Here is Janet performing this poem (which is also featured in the book trailer for Peace in Duress):

Listen, if you will, to these other poems from the book:

Hotel Reality
(from Peace in Duress, pages 38–41)

I can’t stand the grabbing hands
The way they drag me in
Against my will, unwelcomed
Uncivilized addiction
Visions of medicine
Dropping like acid on the skin
Tapping your foot off the beat
But it still feels good
Stuck in a sequence of movements
Static minutes passing to hours
This is how Thursday goes
Drugs don’t like independence
They are jealous lovers
Overbearing, they like you bound
Little romance to bring you back
After the breakup, but you do and again
You do
It isn’t smoke in your eyes
It isn’t blood on your sleeve
This is the itch of psychic knowing
You’ve got to cop to it
We are all multi-dimensional
With invisible bridges connecting
Us together
I am aware of the pain I caused you
I can see it in the reflection of me
In your eyes looking back at you
And on and on

You beg for the songs to stop
For the drugs to wear off
But there is no one there
To hear you and no one who cares
Emotional safety nets break
Dropping like wet concrete

The artist is to the critic is to the reader
Is to the merchant is to the writer is to the muse
Is to the universe is to the _________________
The junkie’s line is limited
And critical contributions stop short
Our bones are not old hotels
Mysteriously supporting structures
Overdue for demolition
How do we all make a living?

“The most addicting drug of all is silence”
Sentences walking out of the room
Disappearing down fog-filled streets
Leaving questions on the tongue
Life is not complicated
It is not an acid trip
It is a dream
It is a story made of many
Complexity comes when we try
To cheat our way through it
We are still learning
We make the same effort
To do the same things
They already did
Without success

It is useless to try and alter reality
History brings a well-worn shovel
And backhoe when we try
To bury our lies
Sleep is the only true territory unceded
It is precious and sacred
Please do not disturb
The funny-faced masks
Remind us there is something
Beyond ourselves, pay attention

Everything is energy, everything is commodity
I got what you want
You need what I got
How much? Is the question
Love is a heavy negotiation
With subclauses and loopholes
Waivers you never knew you signed
Pay attention

The junkie will call at all hours
Just to see if you’re in, hang up
And call again
Performance is a language
We learn to use every day
This voice is for you
Trouble follows drugs
I want to be a dealer
Just for the money
Quick and dirty
Smoke hash on Christmas
Drop X on New Year’s
Brutal is the number
Of lost loved ones
Breaking hearts taking faith
Shaking foundations
Pulling cords messin’ with justice
Losing balance
We hold hope when we believe in
Recycled souls
Better luck next time

I tell him of the many wet-faced
Women lining the back
Of the funeral home
When he goes, he says

The day Buddha decides to
Commit suicide is the day
I stop writing
Worthlessness is a drug
And it doesn’t even
Cost anything

Love and Protection
(from Peace in Duress, pages 63–65)

Love and protection look like
Love looks like
War looks like
Protection looks like
Respect looks like
Love looks like
Looks like
Trouble looks
Like lessons
Looks like
Looks like

Acceptance independence
Dangling faith on the end of a stick
Shining white in the face of the enemy
Starting over and over and over and over
Walking in trust blind trust through ego-less
Paths recycled concepts revisited
Carpets of golden knowing awakened
Sacrificial gravitational beings wearing
Weighty hefty identities cultural knowledge
Song slingers sounding out sturgeons swimming
Together gathering working towards what end

Heaven is a place, an individual happening not
Writing but remembering total inspiration dancing

Respect and knowing look
Like knowing respect looks
Like speaking looks like
Sharing looks like challenging
Like sober looks

Like shaping and naming looks
Like separate looks
Like application and practice
Looks like
Failing looks
Like the moon falling
Like them
Looks like us
Looks like
Sixty extra pounds
Looks like bells born
In the ground looks
Like men
Like overlapping

Conjured up contrasting
Corruptions keeping vigilance
Through reproduced ceremony
Only to understand fractions and pass on
Notions of the original but practised
With authentic faith, facts tucked between
Pages and sold to no one in particular
No one who knows what to do with it
No one goes to extremes anymore
No body is the best identity, anonymous artist
No thing separate always
With us

Shining constantly shining the light
Dissect the sacred till nothing
No thing can live above the sun
there’s a billion blazing taxis raising a roar

Stealth and presence look
Like stealth and presence
Looks like presence
Look presents
Like presence
Like secret presents
Looks secret looks

More of Janet’s spoken word and radio work can be heard on the Janet Marie Rogers SoundCloud page.

Peace in Duress is available from Talonbooks for $16.95.