I in an Own Place: Reading the Poetry of Canisia Lubrin

Canisia Lubrin’s two volumes of poetry to date have met with remarkable success. Her first collection, Voodoo Hypothesis (2017), was a finalist for the Raymond Souster Award, presented by the League of Canadian Poets, and was widely and well reviewed. Her second book, The Dyzgraphxst (2020), appeared on the short list for the Governor General’s Award and won the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2021. In the same year Lubrin received a Windham-Campbell Literature Prize from Yale University, joining a list of distinguished poets that includes Kwame Dawes, Carolyn Forché, Lorna Goodison, and Cathy Park Hong. This reception, coupled with our sense at Canadian Literature of the urgency and appeal of The Dyzgraphxst, inspired this forum on Lubrin’s writing: a standard book review seemed inadequate to the intricacies and accomplishment of the poetry. In lieu of a review of The Dyzgraphxst, then, seven short essays that examine and pay tribute to a pair of books that have captured the attention of readers in Canada and beyond.1


The essays, most of which are written by emerging scholars, concentrate on aspects of poetic form and style: the distinctive use of the pronoun “I” in The Dyzgraphxst, the tercet and the villanelle, the placement of words on the page, titles, and punctuation. As the essays insist, such elements are laden with significance in Lubrin’s poetry and demand consideration. In taking up the question of how to read the poems carefully and conscientiously, the responses here suggest that ostensible difficulty affords opportunities for creative interpretation, both in the classroom and on the critic’s page. The very title of The Dyzgraphxst appears to defy pronunciation, but the superscript letter suggests a wealth of correspondences. In Aimé Césaire’s Une tempête (1969), Caliban assumes X as his name, the proper designation for one whose true name has been stolen: “Appelle-moi X. Ça vaudra mieux. Comme qui dirait l’homme sans nom. Plus exactement, l’homme dont on a volé le nom” (28). In Safiya Sinclair’s Cannibal (2016), the passage from Césaire introduces a poem in which words and phrases from Shakespeare’s The Tempest are jumbled to give Caliban new voice from old language: “Master, Dare I // unjungle it?” (109).


Like Une tempête and Cannibal, Voodoo Hypothesis and The Dyzgraphxst are works that portray and stem from the Caribbean and the greater Black Atlantic. They embody a poetics of diaspora and anti-colonialism, of islands and oceans, and of linguistic multiplicity. Thus the essays in this forum also focus on literary, cultural, and historical contexts for Lubrin’s poetry. Voodoo Hypothesis, for instance, contains references to Derek Walcott, Saint-John Perse, Dionne Brand, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Gwendolyn Brooks, Afua Cooper, C. L. R. James, Priscila Uppal, and Christina Sharpe. The essays here suggest ways of approaching Lubrin’s books in light of such figures, while emphasizing the originality and vitality of the poetry at issue.


“There is a spirit nation / under the ocean,” writes Lorna Goodison in a poem called “To Become Green Again and Young”: “May its citizens plead / for our recovery and redemption” (Guinea 113). In both Voodoo Hypothesis and The Dyzgraphxst, Lubrin evokes connections between the world below the surface and the world above it as she investigates matters of spirit and body, recovery and redemption, home and homecoming, self and location. Early in The Dyzgraphxst she writes, “[W]hat is I / but to always have been (t)here, I’ve asked it, what is I: I in an own place” (9). The pages that follow trace such concerns as they arise in Lubrin’s astonishing poetry.



1 Voodoo Hypothesis was reviewed in Canadian Literature 236; see Fitzpatrick.


Works Cited

Césaire, Aimé. Une tempête. Seuil, 1969.

Fitzpatrick, Ryan. “Bearing and Scale.” Review of Voodoo Hypothesis, by Canisia Lubrin, and Wayside Sang, by Cecily Nicholson. Canadian Literature, no. 236, spring 2018, pp. 162-63.

Goodison, Lorna. Guinea Woman: New and Selected Poems. Carcanet, 2000.

Lubrin, Canisia. The Dyzgraphxst: A Poem. McClelland & Stewart, 2020.

—. Voodoo Hypothesis. Buckrider, 2017.

Sinclair, Safiya. Cannibal. U of Nebraska P, 2016.

This originally appeared in Canadian Literature 247 (2021): 145-147.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.