Canisia Lubrin on remembering her grandmother's stories — even when her grandmother couldn't
Canisia Lubrin's home in Whitby, Ontario is a long way from the small wooden house near the beach in St. Lucia where she spent the first few years of her life. The house was old and creaky but Canisia remembers it as a wondrous place where the windows offered a view of banana trees and the ocean.
But, mostly, Canisia remembers that tiny house for the stories – funny and scary, sometimes confusing – that her grandmother would spin nightly in the hopes of teaching the children a lesson or two about how to live well and treat others with respect.
Canisia's grandmother would recount the old Creole folktales and fables form her own childhood, stories of greed run amok and gluttony taken to the extreme. The outcomes for those characters were rarely good but Canisia and her brother just couldn't get enough.
Sitting on her grandmother's lap in that small house near the beach, Canisia would beg her grandmother to tell and retell her favourite stories – stories that would later influence Canisia's own poetry and writing in Canada.
But those moonlit nights full of storytelling wouldn't last much past Canisia's early school years. Her grandmother fell ill and their close relationship evaporated, seemingly in a matter of minutes. But the importance of those early years had a lasting impact on Canisia who says despite the intervening decades, in her mind, her primary audience is still her grandmother: "Every time I sit down and write something, I think I want to tell her a story. Every poem I write, she's right there. Every piece of fiction I write, she's right there. To me, she's hanging over my shoulders because those short years I spent with her, she was the master that trained my ear."