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Thoughts on Jan Zwicky

Jan is not an aboriginal person, but I think that she is leading in an under-explored area in philosphy; work that can be used within an epistemological orientation within an Indigenous philosophy.

On your right (unde Philosophy and Music) "lyric philosophy is something that can be explored.  The written word in poem form can be used to draw out philosophy. 

This I see as applicable to indigenous traditions of story, dance, etc. 

Dr. Daniel Justice (Cherokee Nation)

Daniel Heath Justice is a Colorado-born Canadian citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He received his B.A. from the University of Northern Colorado and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Before coming to UBC, he spent ten years as a faculty member in the Department of English at the University of Toronto, where he was also an affiliate of the Aboriginal Studies Program.

Jan Zwicky

​Source:  The Canadian Encyclopedia 

Jan Zwicky, poet, philosopher, essayist, musician, teacher (born 10 May 1955 in Calgary, AB).

Jan Zwicky, poet, philosopher, essayist, musician, teacher (born 10 May 1955 in Calgary, AB). Winner of the Governor General’s Award and short-listed for the Griffin Poetry Prize, Jan Zwicky is among Canada’s most innovative writers and thinkers. Influenced by such foundational Western philosophers as Plato, Herakleitos, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zwicky has established a reputation as a thoughtful writer and editor. Along with fellow writers Robert Bringhurst, Dennis Lee, Tim Lilburn and Don McKay, she contributes to an ongoing conversation about poetry and philosophy, especially as they relate to ecological thinking.

Education and Literary Career

Zwicky studied at the University of Calgary (BA 1976) and the University of Toronto (MA 1977, PhD 1981). Her dissertation developed a theory of ineffability, that is, reasons for thinking there are forms of understanding that are not linguistic. She has taught philosophy at Princeton University and the universities of Alberta, Waterloo, New Brunswick, and Victoria, where she remains an adjunct professor.

Zwicky emerged as an intellectual force on the national poetry scene after a decade and a half of writing poetry and philosophy. Having published four poetry collections in the 1980s — including Wittgenstein Elegies (1986) and The New Room (1989), in which she first makes her philosophical affinities apparent — Zwicky turned her attention to politics, both cultural and environmental. Initially handmade, Songs for Relinquishing the Earth (1996) was eventually published by Brick Books in 1998. In its detailed attention to the natural world and its emphasis on music and philosophy as lyric forms, it has since become Zwicky's signature work of poetry. At the same time, Zwicky was developing a unique polyphonic approach to philosophy. Her first major book-length study, Lyric Philosophy (1992), was followed by an essay that employed a similar structure, “Bringhurst’s Presocratics” (1995). Three poetry collections followed Songs for Relinquishing the Earth: Robinson’s Crossing (2004) (shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award), Thirty-seven Small Songs and Thirteen Silences (2005) (shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and the Pat Lowther Award), and Forge (shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize).

Philosophy and Music

Jan Zwicky's philosophical writing takes a unique, polyphonic form. In both Lyric Philosophy (1992) and Wisdom & Metaphor (2003), Zwicky constructs a dialogue between her own philosophical aphorisms on the left-hand pages and excerpts from poems, philosophical tracts or geometric proofs on the right-hand pages. Akibiades’ Love (2015) argues that major philosophical trends of our times, such as analytic philosophy and deconstructionism, mirror the alienated technological world we live in, and proposes replacing them with her more integrated notion of lyric philosophy. While these works trace Zwicky's philosophical understanding of musical and metaphorical thinking, her poetry and essays since Songs for Relinquishing the Earth ground her poetics in the material world of domestic, ecological and musical phenomena.

Zwicky is also an accomplished violinist and has performed in chamber groups and orchestras across Canada.


Songs for Relinquishing the Earth (1998) won Zwicky the 1999 Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry. She has since been nominated for Wisdom & Metaphor (2003), in the nonfiction category, and Robinson's Crossing (2004), which won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 2005. Zwicky was also shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Prize in 1999 and 2006 and the Pat Lowther Award in 2006. Her work has received critical attention in Lyric Ecology: An Appreciation of the Work of Jan Zwicky (2010), a collection of meditations by fellow poets and scholars.

Suggested Reading

Mark Dickinson and Clare Goulet, eds. Lyric Ecology: An Appreciation of the Work of Jan Zwicky; Jan Zwicky, Songs for Relinquishing the Earth, Wisdom & Metaphor.


Lyrics of rap and hip-hop are current ways in which contemporary indigenous thinking intersects with Ancient philosophy; it started from experience and the questions of experience.  What is justice; like the ancients the injustice was described and then analyzed.  Contemporary lyrics either cover the nature of the injustice and/or try to provide a vision that comes from an examined life both of the individual and the group.

Telling Stories:  A potential methodology to drill into universal questions informed by a particular socio-cultural experience.


Dedicated to Developing a broader appreciation for the Indigenous Performing Arts in Canada.

Daniel currently holds the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Literature and Expressive Culture. He is the author of Our Fire Survives the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History and numerous essays in the field of Indigenous literary studies, as well as co-editor of a number of critical and creative anthologies and journals, including The Oxford Handbook of Indigenous American Literature (with James H. Cox) and the award-winning Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature (with Qwo-Li Driskill, Deborah Miranda, and Lisa Tatonetti). He is also the author of Badger in the celebrated Animal series from Reaktion Books (UK).

2015 marks the tenth publication anniversary of the first volume in Daniel’s Indigenous epic fantasy series, The Way of Thorn and Thunder, which was published under that title in an omnibus edition in 2011. His current projects include Why Indigenous Literatures Matter, a literary manifesto forthcoming from Wilfrid Laurier University Press in 2016, a collection of essays and short stories titled Imagining Otherwise: Reflections on Indigenous Belonging and Desire, as well as a new dark fantasy trilogy, a cultural history of raccoons, and a critical monograph on other-than-human kinship in Indigenous writing