Six Short Takes: Q&A with Canisia Lubrin


CANADIAN LITERATURE: Your books include familiar formal structures— such as tercets in The Dyzgraphxst and almost-sonnets in Voodoo Hypothesis (in “The Mongrel”)—as well as striking departures from these forms. What appeals to you about moving from one mode to another? Do you see a dialogue in your writing between “old” and “new”?


CANISIA LUBRIN: I commit to finding the form that best suits what I’m trying to express. Whether this means something familiar or something new or a modification of what is familiar all depends on that work and what it requires in order to exist the way it makes sense to me as its designer.


CANADIAN LITERATURE: In both books you mention Christina Sharpe’s work, and In the Wake in particular. The authors in this forum have gravitated toward In the Wake as a context for your poetry. When you write, do you perceive a difference between poetry as a mode to draw on (or to be in conversation with) and non-fiction or scholarly writing? Or is any work a potential source of ideas and language?


CANISIA LUBRIN: Same as above. I do what the work needs. What I know or think or believe is not usually in question. I write toward uncovering something I don’t know or understand. This exploration takes whatever route is needed. Anything is a potential source. And I can see how one might think I am “breaking form” if one is trained to look through a certain lens. Otherwise, I am more interested in exploration.


CANADIAN LITERATURE: In the acknowledgements to The Dyzgraphxst, you generously thank your “dear readers. I and i and I and you” (167). (And you thank the reader in Voodoo Hypothesis too.) In writing, do you have a particular reader in mind? Or readers who read in a particular way?


CANISIA LUBRIN: I have huge respect and regard and trust in the reader’s imagination and abilities. I am aware that readers (whoever they are) bring way more to the page than a writer can put into it. Of course, I assume certain things about my primary readers, which are clear based on how I write.


CANADIAN LITERATURE: In an interview with Eleanor Wachtel (see Lubrin, “Eleanor Wachtel”), you speak movingly about your having been uncomfortable with the lyric “I” (in Dionne Brand’s class, for example). After The Dyzgraphxst, which is full of “I” (and “I” and “i”), do you feel any differently?


CANISIA LUBRIN: The Dyzgraphxst is the actual answer to that question.


CANADIAN LITERATURE: The musicality of your poetry is powerful—there is a lyrical quality even when the poetry is more exploratory than lyric in a conventional sense. Where do you turn to hear the music of language? Are there particular authors whose sound you especially admire? Or musicians?


CANISIA LUBRIN: My poetry is always lyric. All of it is music. Whether one hears and recognizes the music depends on how much one knows or is familiar with the sounds the poetry makes.


CANADIAN LITERATURE: Lastly, what can you tell us about what you’re working on now?


CANISIA LUBRIN: My next book is a collection of linked fiction based on King Louis XIV’s Code noir. It will be published in 2023 by Knopf and is called Code Noir.


With our thanks to Canisia Lubrin for her time. — Canadian Literature


Works Cited

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

—. “Eleanor Wachtel Interviews 2021 Griffin Poetry Prize Canadian Winner Canisia Lubrin.” YouTube, uploaded by Griffin Poetry Prize. 30 June 2021, yt8oAcc3PtI. Accessed 30 Nov. 2021.

This originally appeared in Canadian Literature 247 (2021): 181-182.

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