Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Should I Write a Novel?

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Should I Write a Novel?

I can’t even count the times when folks have asked me what I'm writing about—or more precisely, what novel I'm writing. And when I indicate that I am putting together a poetry collection, suddenly things become awkward. Fiction is simply more lucrative, some will say, it opens many doors and can be read by many people, whereas poetry, perhaps, is meant to be read by some sophisticated individuals who have already been schooled in the art of poesis. Poetry isn't for everybody, but does that mean it should be for only a select few? I find it hard to believe that with the privileges of being able to dub oneself as one likes into a variety of poetic traditions, read or spoken aloud, that poetry is a term that in itself doesn't sound "lucrative."

Poetry is an art of slowness, of reflection, and of history. The ancient Greeks placed poetry on the same pedestal as mathematics and science and philosophy, as all were requisites for the development and growth of both mind and soul. Yet nowadays, the struggle is less philosophic and more real. As a woman of colour, the struggle feels even more real, in different ways. I've written poetry books all my life; is this the point where I take the plunge to make my name “more real”? I've been working on a novel for over ten years; is this the time to start venturing forth and put things together and make it cohesive and available to a more general public? Will the publication of a novel make me “solid”?

The poet in me wails, complains, is sometimes annoying to listen to. There is this part of me that wants to do all things, that believes it is possible, even desirable, to try to cover all literary bases… to be that kind of writer who can dive into the waters of one genre and soar out of the next. I have great ideas for the novel I’m working on, regardless. It is more the nuance of choosing what to do that I am having some trouble with.

People “get” fiction. They buy it in grocery stores, pharmacies, borrow them off library shelves every day. But poetry is another animal. I don't believe in hierarchies of genre. Yet the world seems to place poetry at a lower shelf most of the time--as though its often fanciful and mystical aura means it should maintain an impermanent kind of existence that doesn’t have a bearing on the quote-unquote real world. The first book I read that made me want to write was a novel; the second book that made me want to keep writing was poetry. Perhaps I'm not the best candidate to discuss in finesse the difference between the genres on political terms, and what they've meant to different readerships through history (not enough room to try that debate here), but I do stand for the name of poetry, especially in light of the upcoming World Poetry Day as declared by UNESCO.

Anyhow, I think I will write/finish this novel, and have an agent/publisher in mind. But most important to me is that I don’t feel my project is a bargain. Two beautiful genres will somehow make themselves known in this life of mine, as they have in the lives of many writers, and I’m okay with that.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Adebe DeRango-Adem

Adebe DeRango-Adem is a writer and doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has been published in various North American sources, including Descant, CV2, Canadian Woman Studies and the Toronto Star. She won the Toronto Poetry Competition in 2005 to become Toronto’s first Junior Poet Laureate. Her debut poetry collection, Ex Nihilo, was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize. She is also the co-editor, alongside Andrea Thompson, of Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out. She was recommended by current Poet Laureate of Canada George Elliott Clarke as a young black "writer to watch".

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