British Columbia

Vancouver Island professor challenges perception of Canadian identity with new poetry chapbook

VIU Professor Sonnet L'Abbé is the poet behind the 2017 bpNichol Chapbook Award winner, Anima Canadensis, which challenges the idea of a Canadian identity.

Anima Canadensis is the winner of the 2017 bpNichol Chapbook Award

Sonnet L'Abbe's chapbook, Anima Canadensis, examines the Canadian identity through poetry. (Sonnet L'Abbé / facebook)

Nanaimo's Sonnet L'Abbé, a Vancouver Island University professor and poet, says her childhood experiences inspired her poetry chapbook Anima Canadensis.

Anima recently won the 2017 bpNichol Chapbook Award, which came with a $4,000 prize for L'Abbé. 

"My experiences of ... social groups around me when I was a kid, left me wondering, 'who got to say who belonged?'" said L'Abbé. "Who got to name this place? Who got to say who was an immigrant and who wasn't?"

A chapbook is a booklet of creative work about 30-40 pages long.

L'Abbé said her poetry often deals with issues of race and gender, and how they play into the idea of Canadian identity. She said part of the purpose of her book it to challenge the idea of what it is to be Canadian, and question our ability to homogenize diverse cultures into a uniform identity.

"This book works with me thinking about the land, me thinking about my individual body's relationship to the land," said L'Abbé during CBC's North by Northwest.

What is Canadian?

L'Abbé said poems in Anima Canadensis — which can be translated as Canadian Life — describe the Canadian identify as fluid and always changing. She also says the idea of a Canadian identity is hard to pin down because there are so many cultures in the country.

L'Abbé said she had a large collection of poems and didn't get the idea to compile them in Anima Canadensis until she was approached by publisher Junction Books.

She said it was a thrill to work with the small chapbook medium and to distribute copies by hand and through word of mouth.

"The chapbook scene, the small press scene, is still where it's fun to try out new work if you want to do something different," said L'Abbé.

With files from North by Northwest