Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Sonnet L'Abbé

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Sonnet L'Abbe

Open Book talks to poet Sonnet L'Abbé about journal keeping, Virginia Woolf, future projects and her latest book, Killarnoe (McClelland & Stewart).

Open Book:

What initially prompted you to write? Did you write as a child?

Sonnet L'Abbé:

At seven years old, I read Shakespeare's sonnets and tried to figure out what each one meant. I didn't write down my ideas then, though. I believe I started my first journal in 1985, so I would have been twelve. I had a set of five different coloured pens and wrote in a different colour on each day, and moved in strict sequence through the colours. That should tell you something about me and form. Or me and being anal about writing. I like to think anal about writing is a good quality in a poet.

OB:

What is the meaning of the title of your most recent poetry collection, Killarnoe?

SL:

The answer to that question is the poem "Killarnoe." Not trying to be precious here. It just is exactly that; to add more to it would defeat the purpose of how that poem does be.

OB:

You are a doctoral candidate, in addition to being a fabulous poet. How has the academic world influenced your work?

SL:

I love the community the university provides. It is great to be around people who love poetry and who want to talk about it. I love interacting with bright people who appreciate having their minds blown by great work. At UBC I get to be a part of the reading series Play Chthonics, which brings amazing writers from across the country together to read and talk.

OB:

Your work has been featured in Other Tongues: Mixed Race Women Speak Out, published by Inanna (edited by Adebe DeRango-Adem with Andrea Thompson). Why did you decide to submit to this project?

SL:

I remembered Miscegenation Blues from my early undergrad years and was excited (and humbled) to see that time had passed, things had changed and we were ready for a new anthology addressing what it is to identify as mixed right now. "Post-race"? I wish. There is a mixed-race man in the White House. It is an auspicious time for such a book and I wanted to be part of that.

OB:

Virginia Woolf once said, "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." What does this quote mean to you? What does this room symbolize for you, as a writer/scholar?

SL:

A woman must have her own money, yes, and probably even property of her own if, after the first youthful and mentored entries into writing, she wants to be able to speak her mind and have impact. What I mean is that she must move successfully through the social and capital worlds that can publish her and let her address the readers she wants to reach. Being financially and physically independent is crucial - though often not always completely possible. I don't know that fiction is the genre, or the only genre, anymore, to which that statement best applies. It's a different historical moment. For me, the room is everything else besides talent that needs to be in place for one's talent to be visible, to be legible and saleable in the moment one writes. It's harder when you have to work to maintain the talent and hustle to maintain the room.

OB:

Who are your favourite women writers and why?

SL:

I love Virginia Woolf for her fierce, precise sentences and the absolutely fearless liquidity between her characters' inner-directed and outward-acting states. I love the majesty of the women she gives us, the vast proportions she gives the tragedy of knowing them trapped in, or fighting within, their roles. Atwood I loved in my twenties for her sarcasm. Carol Shields I loved for her sweet sense of what a real romance might look like, then for her brokenheartedness at the end of her life that she did not see a happy ending for the young women who would survive her. Gertrude Stein for balls. Sylvia Plath. Toni Morrison. Wislawa Szymborska. Gwendolyn MacEwen. Gwendolyn Brooks.

OB:

Are you currently at work with any new projects?

SL:

I've got a lot of work piling up around my interest in botanical writing that I will collect into a book. I'll finish my dissertation first, though. The project's working title is Sentient Mental Flower Book.




Sonnet L'Abbé is a Canadian poet and critic. In 2000, she won the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award for most promising writer under 35. You can read more about Sonnet at Representative Poetry Online.

For more information about Killarnoe please visit the McClelland & Stewart website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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