Last spring—as launches, festivals and other events were cancelled across the country—49th Shelf helped Canadian authors launch more than 50 new books with LAUNCHPAD. And now we're back this fall, but with a twist.
LAUNCHPAD 2.0 features new releases selected by great Canadian writers who've chosen books that absolutely deserve to find their way into the hands of readers.
Today Amber Dawn is championing knot body, by Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch, writing, "In this moment, when trans, racialized and disabled bodies are met with voyeuristic and polarizing commentary within the public sphere, Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch offers legitimate intimacy in their debut collection knot body. As self-communional as Kiese Laymon’s Heavy and Terese Marie Mailhot’s Heart Berries, they amplify the epistolary memoir. Each of their letters are emotionally and thematically complete and, yet, each letter decidedly speaks to the next. Readers may sit and ruminate on the sharp and sensual inquiry offered by each individual letter, or read cover-to-cover and be present to the gorgeously-engaged, call-and-response quality of knot body as a whole.
49th Shelf: What particular something have you managed to achieve with this book that you’re especially proud of?
Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch: I think I’ve really figured out my voice with this book. I definitely had a distinct voice before but I think working on a book length project really helped fill it out. It was a good voice, if a bit weak, and after this book, it has become much more full because of practise and stretching.
49th Shelf: Tell us about your ideal reader, and where you imagine them reading your book.
Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch: My ideal reader is another trans person of colour with chronic pain, who maybe doesn’t quite know it, feeling validated, or someone with fibro learning something new about their body and pain. Or just anyone who the book really resonates with. When Amber Dawn read my book, she said she kept throwing her iPad and screaming, which honestly is the most flattering thing!!
49th Shelf: What authors and works inspired you on your journey in creating this book?
Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch: Quite a few texts really inspired me while writing this book. Books like Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, by Claudia Rankine, The Blue Clerk, by Dionne Brand, and all of Tommy Pico’s books, have really opened up space in my brain, allowing me to see new possibilities in poetry; all of these poets make ground breaking work that creates space for other writers trying to experiment with form. Tommy Pico, particularly his book Junk, particularly influenced this book as I tried to inject as much humour as possible into the work.
Anne Boyer’s The Undying was such an important read for me this year, and really helped guide me through my own engagement with chronic sickness/pain, and helped me learn so much about cancer and disability that I didn’t previously know.
Eli Clare’s Brilliant Imperfection, a book of theory about disability, also taught me so much in terms of the ways we look at and talk about disability, and the ways disabled people actually make up such a large and vast group of people. Through him, I really learned to emphasise that to talk about different kinds of disabilities, we must always be nuanced and account for so much difference.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha’s Care Work and their other work addressing chronic pain/fibromyalgia has always been important to me and to my thinking.
The last person I’ll mention is Jasmine Gibson. She wrote this series of poems called “Stop Texting Me” that, like Pico’s work, showed me how to use play in my poetry while discussing massive issues like white supremacy and ableism.
Honestly, I’m a writer that gets so much from other books in terms of learning and growing, and I always want to be in conversation with my contemporaries while honouring my literary ancestors.
49th Shelf: What’s something you know now that you didn’t know when you set out to write your book?
Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch: I’ve learned I only really want to work on book length projects rather than singular poems. There’s something about working towards a whole book that keeps me engaged and stimulated in a way that working on individual poems doesn’t quite do it for me anymore. I’d like to try working on a book length poem, kind of like Tommy Pico does in his books. I’d like to challenge myself to sustain a single poem for 100 pages. In the book, I also experimented with the lyrical essay form and I’d love to do more experimental creative non-fiction.
49th Shelf: How did you decide about the letter format in the book? When was that decision made? Was it intentional or happenstance?
Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch: Initially the poems were a bit more scattered, and the work was just prose poems and some verse poetry. It was honestly feeling a bit bored by it, and if I was bored by it, I couldn’t imagine putting it out into the world, proudly, and promoting you so others might find it. When I read Kay Gabriel’s “Bath 2” in Peach Mag, I was definitely inspired to try my own letter poems, and the epistolary form was actually perfect for what I was trying to do. I kind of landed on the form by accident. It really gave me the space to address so much. The letter form was a loose container that would stop the poems from overflowing, but also gave the poems the space to create a sense of movement in terms of subject matter, sound, and tone. I was able to drastically shift from one subject to the next without it feeling jarring.
49th Shelf: What bookstore are you most excited to walk into and see your book displayed on the shelf?
Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch: I think I’m less excited about one particular bookstore and more excited about bookstores in general carrying my book, especially ones outside of Montreal. I’ve done enough readings here and in Toronto to know that I’ll have readers in those cities (which doesn’t make it any less special) but there’s something about someone in a different city I’ve never been to picking up my book and enjoying it that feels quite romantic. I am also definitely stoked for queer bookstores or BIPOC owned/run bookstores to have my book in stock.
49th Shelf: Who are you most grateful to for support in bringing your book into the world?
Eli Tareq El Bechelany-Lynch: So many people honestly!! I’m really grateful to all my community including my sister, my mom, my partners Shae and Helen, my dear dear friends, who have always been stoked about my work and so supportive. It’s much easier to be less self-deprecating about my work and down on it when I have a good crew of people cheering me on. I’m really grateful to Ashley, my publisher at Metatron, for supporting my work for years and for helping me put my first book into the world. I’m really grateful to Lee for making the beautiful book cover. And I want to thank Amber Dawn for all of her encouragement. Since reading the book, she’s been such an avid supporter. I also want to thank Canisia Lubrin for her friendship and for all her advice re: writing and publishing, she definitely helped clarify so much for me. It’s really nice to have people already in the lit community who I feel are looking out for me, and my friends in the CanLit community who I’m writing with and to. I met so many amazing people when I did this BIPOC residency in Banff in 2017 (including Canisia) and I’m honestly so thankful for all of their care, love, and encouragement.
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