Cara Nelissen Interviews Writers’ Room

Trailer Park Shakes: An Interview with Justene Dion-Glowa

Interview by Cara Nelissen

In connection with the annual Victoria Festival of Authors taking place September 28 to October 2, 2022, Plenitude book reviews editor Cara Nelissen interviews VFA author Justene Dion-Glowa on their debut collection of poetry, Trailer Park Shakes. Forest to Poet/Tree Walk takes place Saturday, October 1, and Justene will be participating in the event with Joseph Dandurand, Tolu Oloruntoba, and Anne-Marie Turza, hosted by Yvonne Blomer and Beth Kope.

Justene Dion-Glowa is a queer Métis creative, beadworker and poet born in Win-Nipi (Winnipeg) and has been residing in Secwepemcú’lecw since 2014, where they work with Indigenous youth. They are a Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity alumni. Trailer Park Shakes is their first full-length poetry book.

The poems in Trailer Park Shakes, while dreamlike and playful, bear unflinching witness to the workings of injustice—how violence is channeled through institutions and refracted intimately between people, becoming intertwined with the full range of human experience, including care and love.

The poems in Trailer Park Shakes are divided into two sections. How did you organize your manuscript?

I actually found it quite difficult to organize. Fairly late in the editing process, I recognized that while some of the poems are quite blunt and literal, some are more ethereal and abstract. What I wanted was to ensure there was a pause from the content—some of which can be difficult to digest, while also spreading out these two types of poems throughout.

Several of your poems use shape in an interesting way. How do you arrive at the physical shape of a poem?

Early on in writing the content of this book, I saw too much of the same form, and really tried to cultivate the page itself as a medium. With the poem “Ruts,” I gave my best effort to make the shape of a splayed bird’s wing, as I kept seeing dead birds on the highway, and this wing-to-the-sky pose really impacted me—I don’t like seeing the disrespect animals often face in death.

Two of your poems (“Tissue” and “kaanookaat {spider}”) use evocative imagery of spiders and web-weaving. What draws you to spiders?

I’m quite lucky to live somewhat rurally, and spiders are a regular part of life. I find it fascinating we can be struck by such fear by such a small thing, yet understand that on some level that instinct is because some of them can harm us. To me, beauty and danger is what I’m wrestling with, what we are all wrestling with every moment of every day.

Many of your poems deal with difficult experiences. What is the process of turning a memory or experience into a poem? Does writing poetry change how you relate to these events?

For me, writing about these things is an opportunity to process the grief. I know so much anger and resentment that would stay inside my body if I couldn’t find an outlet. Poetry takes the edge off of these memories for sure.

Which poem in Trailer Park Shakes is your personal favourite, and why?

“7 grams.” There are so many of these works that are about my brother’s passing, but this one in particular is quite biting and has an emphasis on the anger we feel and the false blame we place when we lose someone whose mortality we never even had a chance to consider. I think we beat ourselves up for this very natural part of the grieving process but we really shouldn’t.

Who is your poetry collection speaking to? What do you hope they take away from it?

I think the book speaks to anyone who has had out-of-the-ordinary experiences. I know how easy it is to normalize the idea that you’re alone with these hugely impactful things, but truthfully, you’re not. I hope that people can feel a sense of belonging from this work.

Cara Nelissen is a queer writer living in Vancouver. She’s the author of the chapbook Pray For Us Girls (Rahila’s Ghost Press, 2019), and her work has been published in several literary magazines, including Vallum, CV2 and Grain.