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  • Living History:A Conversation with Kimberly Blaeser
  • Jennifer Andrews (bio)

An enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Kimberly Blaeser was raised on the White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota. Blaeser is a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where she teaches Native American literature. She is has written three collections of poetry, Trailing You, Absentee Indians and Other Poems, and Apprenticed to Justice, and an academic study of fellow White Earth writer and scholar Gerald Vizenor, titled Gerald Vizenor: Writing in the Oral Tradition, and edited an anthology of short fiction by Anishinaabe writers called Stories Migrating Home. Blaeser has published more than sixty articles, personal essays, poems, and short stories in American and Canadian journals, newspapers, and collections and is the recipient of numerous awards.

This transcribed and subsequently collaboratively edited interview is part of a larger book-length project on recent Native North American women poets' use of humor and irony. The following conversation took place in March 2003 at Blaeser's home in rural Wisconsin and since has been updated several times via e-mail.

jennifer andrews: I want to start by asking how your poetry informs your scholarship, and vice versa. I'm thinking particularly of the haiku poems you've authored and your analysis of the haiku form in your book on Gerald Vizenor.

kimberly blaeser: In some ways I think there's a tension that plays out between the creative and the academic, and it might be because there's an inbred expectation of what it means to be an academic. [End Page 1] And so, of course, I resist that, and it's apparent in some of my critical pieces. I tend to try to break open those expectations and deliberately not fulfill them by doing instead whatever it is I want to do in my discussion of the texts. I was telling you about that book that Craig Womack and a couple of other people are editing; the essay I did for them is not at all what you would think of as a classic academic essay. I'm playing a lot with that form and allowing the parts of my work, and ways of thinking and dealing with language, to mingle and come closer together. With haiku, it's a slightly different situation, because the way that Vizenor himself engages with the idea of haiku or haiku theory is creative. His language about it is creative, and it's energizing, not static in the way that we think of academic accounts or descriptions. So I think that the very essence of haiku makes the possibility of writing about it easier because it brings the creative and the critical closer together.

ja: What you've said about playing with form is really interesting, because your book on Vizenor is classically academic in structure and tone but written in a very accessible way. So it seemed you were already playing with the form of scholarly texts by making your monograph accessible and, in particular, making Vizenor's language accessible, which is often tricky. Speaking of influence, in your first book of poems, Trailing You, you begin the collection with a preface that celebrates the influence of family and friends. Collectivity seems to be central in the preface: the idea that there isn't a stereotypical solitary writer. And then there's a whole section of poems in the second book, "From One Half-Mad Writer to Another," which dialogues with and pays tribute to a variety of writers and different languages. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about how other writers have influenced your work.

kb: That's a great question. The idea of feeling that none of this is something that is only my voice is just the way I understand story, or even understand identity. I so much feel that anything I say, think, am, be, write—all of that—is inevitably intertwined beyond our ability to track it back. I think that from the uterus, and beyond, we're linked to other people, to other stories, voices, and experiences. In my family there was so much oral exchange because early...