Canisia Lubrin is the author of Voodoo Hypothesis (2017) and augur (2017). She is consulting editor at Wolsak & Wynn, serves on the editorial board of Humber Literary Review and as an advisor to Open Book. She is 2017-18 Poet in Residence at Poetry in Voice.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
I had a poetry chapbook (augur) released a little over a month after my debut full-length collection. Apart from the obvious differences in format, the chapbook is made up of some work that didn't make it into my debut and new work. I've been so busy promoting Voodoo Hypothesis that I can't quite characterize what has changed in my life other than to suggest that maybe a lot more people know my name. It's too early to tell.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
That I published poetry first is one hell of a thing. I wrote my first poem in 2008. I've lived with fiction for a very long time, my whole life it seems.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
All of that happens.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
My first book came out of some great fortune and just writing poems as they came. The revision/editorial process helped me figure out its shape and obsessions. I'll let you know how the next one happens.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I don't like what, according to me, is the lime light; I'm just way more comfortable behind the scenes even though I can switch in and out of either mode with relative ease. But I understand the value of readings; I do co-host Pivot Readings after all. The bottom line is that literature's also social. So while I've done readings that have often left me more acutely editorially aware of the work I read, other times I simply regret reading certain works in public. Basically, the jury's still out. One thing seems constant: I should always decide what and how to read based on the vibe in the room.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Big question. Big job. Ask me later.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I'm weary of "shoulding" the world and its human inhabitants at all. Yet if I were to put forth a theory, I'd say that writing is how we test our solipsistic nature through the value of everything else. In that sense writers disrupt and reveal, reveal and disrupt and this is parallel to holding up a necessary mirror to culture. The trouble is, it is hard for us to know ourselves well enough or to trust the complexities of our judgements enough to not proselytize about what is in that mirror. So maybe the writer's relationship with society is complicated, which also means that the writer's role is what the writer decides, which is also, by proxy and essentially, complicated.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I think the truth of this moves somewhere along this continuum depending on the stage, genre and measure of the writing.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Be careful not to burn out.
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don't have a routine so to speak but I get most of my writing done between 3 am and 6 pm on the good days. Other than that I wake up and make lunches and dress little people and bid them all kinds of good as they're out the door.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I haven't yet experienced this thing folks call writer's block. The world is so full of stimulation and I am #blessed enough to have all of my major senses still functioning.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of Bay leaf tea. Fresh fried fish. Mangoes. Bleach and the scent of certain "lemon fresh" dishwashing liquids.
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Definitely everything you've mentioned in your question and certainly more. I practice a kind of multiplicity in my writing that sees me again and again rejecting the individualist logic of modern education; we are taught to view things in specialty or in isolation because god-forbid there can be any other measure for professionalism. I find the whole jig kind of churlish and myopic. And, you know what, I may be completely presumptuous in my thinking, but I think our imaginations depend on opening ourselves up to the inner lives of various modes of knowing and interpreting the world. How these converge make for fertile ground for artistic inquiries and creation. Resonances are very interesting to me and I like to follow these in whatever form they come.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Dionne Brand. Kamau Brathwaite. Derek Walcott. Vladimir Lucien. Simone Schwarz-Bart. Patrick Chamoiseau. Aimé Césaire. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. Safiya Sinclair. Cherie Dimaline. David Chariandy. Zadie Smith. James McBride. Toni Morrison. Christina Sharpe. Sina Queyras. Phoebe Wang. Dani Couture. Many others.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
A writing residency via NASA.
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I've long been obsessed with the Cosmos. Likewise drama and the movies. Music, too.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I'd like to think I came out of the womb full of stories. If not that, I definitely came into a richly storied Caribbean world aided by my brilliant storytelling St. Lucian grandmother. Language is a home I know well enough; I started reading before any formal instruction, so that when I started pre-school at age 4, my teacher, the lovely Ms. Adjodha joked that I should be with the older kids. I didn't take this as a joke, mind you. She had one hell of a time talking me off that precipice because all I wanted to do (as I just about reminded her too many times daily) was to be with the older kids who always seemed to spend more time with books. To hell with all this singing (which I loved) and clapping (which I also loved) and all these brightly coloured plastic things (which I hated) and give me reading. I was other kinds of fun-enough during recess and after school, I thought. What became clearer to me in my prepubescence, though, is that through writing, I could be anything I wanted to be. I find the richness of the writing life a particular and flawed response to the notion that writing can occur in a vacuum. Writing isn't necessarily anathema to contradiction but it is how we test writing's solipsistic nature through the value of everything else.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The last great book: The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart.
Film: Get Out. Black Panther. And I simply must mention the cinematic genius of the Netflix series Black Mirror.
19 - What are you currently working on?
A novel. Short stories. Poetry. Nonfiction. Something for the screen.
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