By Emily Putnam
Meet literary trailblazer Tyler Pennock, Carleton’s newest Artist in Residence whose unique approach to poetry and storytelling challenges convention and celebrates the contemporary.
Pennock hails from the Lesser Slave Lake region of Alberta as a member of the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation.
Armed with a Creative Writing MFA from Guelph University, Pennock’s literary career has been nothing short of remarkable. In 2022, they released their celebrated second book, ‘Blood’, following up the resounding success of their debut work, ‘Bones’, which was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the Indigenous Voices Award for Poetry.
Pennock also commits to fostering cultural understanding and knowledge through their teaching role at the Centre for Indigenous Studies at the University of Toronto.
This is an ethos that Pennock is excited to bring to Carleton University — which they consider a homecoming of sorts. "I spent nine of my formative years in Ottawa, so this experience feels like a return to a familiar place."
“It’s really important that I get to be in a familiar geography with a new community and a new Indigenous space with new students, new faculty, and different perspectives. All of that physically and mentally is part of the process - and I love it."
While at Carleton, they aim to expand their literary repertoire.
“I’m working on a collection of poetry to follow up Blood, which will again be more oral tradition in terms of how I conceive of it,” says Pennock. “I’m also working on a couple of short stories, and a sort-of literary criticism that I’ve been considering in terms of how we lose and then recover para-textual information in the context of oral traditions.”
“I’ve also liked reading a lot of theory lately, because it's not something you get access to so much in undergrad. And in graduate studies you get tossed in it, like radishes in a salad. And you still don't get enough of it in terms of depth.”
One of Pennock’s signatures as a literary artist is that they challenge traditional ideas of poems and choose to go without titling many of their works. "I imagine the poems themselves as audience members, actually speaking to each other, so not titling a poem brings forward a sense of how oral cultures work. It's not a disembodied title or name,” says Pennock.
“If I named a poem, you could just state the name, but it gives no understanding of the poem. Whereas if I asked you what your favourite poem is, you would tell me according to your descriptor." In this way, Pennock’s act of naming, or rather not naming a literary work, becomes one of discovery.
"With 'Blood,' I imagined the poems as three-dimensional, overlaying on top of each other to create a dynamic and intricate interplay. There are poems that are structurally similar to previous ones and others that expand upon those structures, leading to a web of interconnected stories."
Though often given the ‘title’ of a spoken word poet or performance artist, Pennock declares, "I'm not [a spoken word poet], although I've been invited to spoken word events." Rather, they see the performance of poetry as a continuation of oral traditions and cultures.
Pennock takes inspiration from all over, including from the likes of singer-songwriters such as Tori Amos, PJ Harvey, and Björk, and enjoys playing Elder Scrolls on their PlayStation to engage in the art of story. “They put so much into world building, you could at any point in any of the games, going back to 2000, pick up a book and read it,” says Pennock. “You can now pick up a book and it refers to a time in a game you played [and] refers to a story you already know. And I love that part.”
They also enjoy the outdoors and are quite familiar with Ottawa’s trails, saying, “I like to ride my bike, and I'll go for exceptionally long walks, because, why have legs if you're not going to use them.”
When considering advice to aspiring writers at Carleton, Pennock notes, “Take the word ‘aspiring’ out is what I would say to them. There’s no such thing as aspiring, you just are.”
“I’ve been a writer my entire life — and I didn’t publish anything until my 30s. Everybody’s normal day-to-day voice is poetry to others, because you can’t occupy someone’s mind.”
Pennock’s tenure at Carleton spans from September 1 to December 2023. All students are welcome to drop by to engage with Pennock and fellow students for a poetry-focused workshop on Wednesday, Nov. 8 in Gordon Wood Lounge on the 18th Floor of Dunton Tower. You can also email them at email@example.com.
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