Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Why poet Canisia Lubrin embraces chaos

The author of the collection Voodoo Hypothesis answers eight questions from eight fellow writers in the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
Canisia Lubrin is the author of the poetry collection Voodoo Hypothesis. (Anna Keenan)

In her debut poetry collection, Voodoo Hypothesis, Canisia Lubrin​ sets her focus on colonialism, racial oppression and subverting false perceptions of Black identity. The book is informed partly by her experience growing up in the Caribbean and living away from home.

In the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A, Lubrin answers eight questions submitted by eight fellow writers.

1. Lawrence Hill asks, "What do you do to steady your mind (if your mind is capable of being steadied), so that you can shut out the world and write?"

The world coming in tends to catalyse my writing. I learned a long time ago to appreciate chaos for its potential to generously estrange, to open me up to further learning. And while this is something that sustains my writing, I suppose my mind is steadied by the very act of writing itself. Writing is always an opportunity to focus my attention toward the particular, toward what I hope is impending discovery.

2. André Alexis asks, "Are you conscious of the rhythm that paragraphs have, their length, when you're writing? Or is that something you work on as a form of sculpture afterwards?"

Both. I love the musicality of language. I find that the rhythm of the paragraph is tied to the emotive arc of the thing I'm trying to write. I'm oriented toward the musical quality of things because this tends to shape, quite positively, my sense of pace.

3. Jocelyn Parr asks, "Do you think that your politics inform your writing? If so, how? If not, what does it mean to you to think of your politics as separate from your writing life?"​

Yes. This is part of how I honour the complexities of existing in a highly politicized world. I am given over to consider politics in the substantive work of creating art that angles toward liberation, resistance and possibility.

4. Julia McCarthy asks, "What do you think is the difference between poetry and prose?"

Poetry and prose may not be as trapped in polarity as their legends suggest. And I am not sure I have an answer you should take to the bank, yet, I think that a significant difference between the two may be that poetry is the work of artful expressions of compressed language, while prose is language bound and lengthened primarily through narrative cause and effect.

5. Sharon Bala asks, "What is one sentence (from fiction, nonfiction, poetry) that you wish you had written?"

Oh, girl, so many. Barbara Bray's French to English translation of Simone Schwarz-Bart's The Bridge of Beyond is packed full of gems. Here's one: "We walked along in the fading light of the stars, both followed and preceded by workers going in the same direction — a procession of dim and haggard ghosts, with here and there the flash of a machete, or a mouth laughing in the darkness, or the sparkle of a ring in the ear of the woman just in front of us, who moved along like a somnambulist, carrying her sleeping baby in a basket on her head."

Take that in.

6. Cherie Dimaline asks, "When do you feel the most confident and purposeful as a writer?"

When I know there's more writing for me to do.

7. Aviaq Johnston asks, "How do you come up with a title for what you are writing?"

This is my Achilles' heel as a writer. I think so far it has been a series of happy accidents after train-wreck attempts. Ask me again when I've had a chance to formulate proper thoughts about titles. Say, 10 years from now?

8. Tanya Talaga asks, "Who is your most feared critic?"

I've discovered that I am my strictest critic, but there's no fear in me about this critical voice.