Thursday, February 03, 2022

Chantal Gibson, with/holding: poems


I come to you withholding. Let’s
not loiter in the truth. The evil is
already written, our files forever

corrupted. No free antivirus. No

algorithmic way out. The content
is sponsored, baked with our DNA,
the machines busy with the mind-

less work of reproduction. There’s

no Science in remembering, no Art
in the daily curation of our suffering,
no wonder in their wretchedness,

no limit to the limits of their artificial

intelligence. That Error message—
just a distraction. The evil is set on
a loop. Our horror lies not in what

w consume. It’s in the grinning

tyranny of copy n paste, the geno-
ciding rate we feed on our own
afflictions. It’s in the dead-ending

way we spend our pain per diem. (“Terms n Conditions”)

Award-winning west coast poet, artist and educator Chantal Gibson’s second trade poetry title, after How She Read (Qualicum Beach BC: Caitlin Press, 2019) [see my 2020 interview with her here], is with/holding: poems (Caitlin Press, 2021). Gibson’s engagement with shaping language is clearly related to her experience as a visual artist, allowing visual elements and aesthetics into the work that feel very different in texture and tone than the directions that emerge out of concrete and visual poetries. As Hannah McGregor offers as part of her blurb for the collection, “with/holding embeds the reader in the flattening aesthetics of the internet, where every expression of Black life is always already a meme waiting to be reprinted on a yoga mat.” These are poems that unpack and respond to violence, racism, culture and history, and the complexicities of depiction and representation. Gibson utilizes the structures and dehumanizing trickery of online advertising to explore how Blackness is depicted, dismissed and flattened in media, utilizing the language and structures of online advertising copy to social media. Gibson’s work examines a distinct narrative of corrosive speech built out of advertising and corporate language, one that quickly collapses under its own altered meanings. “A white-collared Uncle Ben will never look like / Obama,” she writes, early on in the collection, “and light Aunt Jemima still looks like Auntie-Blackness. It’s hard, letting / go. Unless it’s fixed to your head, a brown face is still blackface, no matter how / you render it.” Through a compelling study shaped and formed in part through collage, she writes of outliers and borders, writing of what has been erased, bordered, boundaries and blacked out. “it’s the way she bites the heads off first,” she writes, to open “Phobogensis,” “it’s the way she shows her teeth // it’s the way she holds up each head // less body like a tiny black trophy be // tween her pinchy-pink finger tips [.]” She includes a long sequence of white text in black boxes, reframing a design shape of slogans. There is a sing-song quality to her experiments and alterations, one that engages heavily with a play of sound and visual propelled by intellectual rigor.

Elevate the content. Make a donation. Promote diversity from within – Offer everyone a seat at the table. Try making new BLACK FRIENDS. Find an athlete, an actor, a celebrity scholar, an influencer, a reformed gangster rapper.

It’s time for change and authenticity comes at a price.

Don’t panic. Spin it.

Call it Reparations.

Call it Rap!arations.

Just keep your eye on the bottom line.

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