Thinking of entering the 2021 CBC Poetry Prize? Juror Canisia Lubrin has some advice for you
The Ontario poet is also nominated for the Griffin Poetry Prize
Canisia Lubrin is a writer, poetry editor and professor. She is the author of The Dyzgraphxst, which won the 2021 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature and is a finalist for the 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize.
The CBC Poetry Prize is currently open for submissions until May 31, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. ET.
The winner will receive $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, have the opportunity to attend a two-week writing residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and have their work published on CBC Books.
Let's start with your recent book of poetry, The Dyzgraphxst. What is it about?
The Dyzgraphxst is a poem structured in seven theatrical acts. It's guided by the central question: "What is personhood or the self in our current world?" This is threatened by the climate crisis, the history and continuances of imperialism and capitalism.
You've won poetry prizes before and are a finalist for the Griffin Poetry Prize this year. What does winning poetry awards mean for you?
It's certainly encouraging and affirming and hopefully brings more ears and eyes and hearts to the work. But mainly, it allows for time away from the constant grind of everyday life and work. It opens up space for the poet to concentrate on what they want to write. All of that is really great for the work that's still to come.
What do you think poetry can teach us about the world around us?
Poetry has a really unique way of allowing us to make sense of the world. In a sense, it clarifies for us what it means to be alive and living in our own time and place, where both mystery and the things we know collide and contradict each other and intersect in these constant changing ways. It's one of the unique ways we can participate in this deeper imagining of ourselves without needing the permission of an authority.
Poetry has a really unique way of allowing us to make sense of the world.
We go to poetry to practice a certain kind of freedom that we can extend in our interactions with one another. It slows us down, reminds us of the complex world that we're a part of, when so much out there flattens so much of the world and of who we are.
That's the receiving end as an audience member, but if you were to write your own poetry, how would you go about structuring and writing that?
Poetry does the same thing for the poet that it does for the reader, because poets are readers as well. We learn much of what we bring to poetry by reading it. The thing is to trust that you already have what it takes to write the poem and whatever brings you to the page is what already belongs to all of us.
Poetry is a way of practicing attention and awareness.
Poetry is in essence around us, it's in the streets, it's in the mud. When I approach the work, I take that world with me to the page and I know the unit for poetry is the line, and I break the sentence in new and exciting ways because what we want is to give new language, find a new phase for familiar things. Give it a resting music. That last part is non-negotiable. Make it sing on the page. So I follow that idea. It could be a phrase, a word, an image, something I overhear, gossip. Whatever it is that makes me find the blank page, I let that open up what the structure should be.
Poetry is a way of practicing attention and awareness. If we go about it the right way, it gives us a greater sense of appreciation for the complexity of the world for so much we don't know.
A few words for those who are looking to enter the CBC Poetry Prize? What would you say to aspiring poets?
The same generosity I extend to myself, I extend to others. Poetry belongs to all of us, it's not somewhere locked up in a tower. That view of the elitism of poetry keeping people out is something that's taken hold, and it's quite unfortunate.
Poetry belongs to all of us, it's with us wherever we are.
Poetry belongs to all of us, it's with us wherever we are. It could be your favourite rosebush, the fight you had last week with someone about vaccines. Trust your creative instincts about it. Find that fresh language, find that new way to see the same. Whatever you're observing and thinking, you give it that kind of vitality and life. You're generous about meeting another person in their imagination and extending your imagination to them as well.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.