Chantal Gibson uses poetry and memory to understand the present


Chantal Gibson visited Canadian Writers in Person on Nov. 9 to talk about her book of poetry, How She Read. York University teaching assistant Dana Patrascu-Kingsley sent the following report to YFile.

Cover of How She Read
Cover of How She Read

Gibson’s debut poetry collection, How She Read, won the 2020 Pat Lowther Memorial Award and the 2020 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. It was also shortlisted for the prestigious 2020 Griffin Poetry Prize. 

Her work confronts colonialism and the erasure of Black voices. “What I’m trying to do in my work is to center Blackness, to center BIPOC voices that have been erased, silenced,” said Gibson.

How She Read explores representations of Black women in Canadian history, art and literature. This collection also has a personal departure point: the writer trying to understand the space that her mother grew up in. “What I’m trying to do is use the past as a way to understand the present,” said Gibson.

Gibson is a writer, artist and educator who works in several media. Her poetry exists visually on the page, often deconstructing the ways in which we understand structures of language and space. “I see poems as sculptures,” she said.

Gibson unsettles poetic spaces and reading practices. “I think it’s important to feel unsettled, and awkward, and a little bit puzzled. You don’t always have 100 per cent entry into a poem, but the feeling that you have is actually part of the experience of being a reader,” said Gibson.