Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award-winning poet Sonnet L'Abbé returns with her third collection, in which a mixed-race woman decomposes her inheritance of Shakespeare by breaking open the sonnet and inventing an entirely new poetic form.
DOROTHY LIVESAY POETRY PRIZE FINALIST
RAYMOND SOUSTER AWARD FINALIST
How can poetry grapple with how some cultures assume the place of others? How can English-speaking writers use the English language to challenge the legacy of colonial literary values? In Sonnet's Shakespeare, one young, half-dougla (mixed South Asian and Black) poet tries to use "the master's tools" on the Bard's "house," attempting to dismantle his monumental place in her pysche and in the poetic canon.
In a defiant act of literary patricide and a feat of painstaking poetic labour, Sonnet L'Abbé works with the pages of Shakespeare's sonnets as a space she will inhabit, as a place of power she will occupy. Letter by letter, she sits her own language down into the white spaces of Shakespeare's poems, until she overwhelms the original text and effectively erases Shakespeare's voice by subsuming his words into hers. In each of the 154 dense new poems of Sonnet's Shakespeare sits one "aggrocultured" Shakespearean sonnet--displaced, spoken over, but never entirely silenced.
L'Abbé invented the process of Sonnet's Shakespeare to find a way to sing from a body that knows both oppression and privilege. She uses the procedural techniques of Oulipian constraint and erasure poetries to harness the raw energies of her hyperconfessional, trauma-forged lyric voice. This is an artist's magnum opus and mixed-race girlboy's diary; the voice of a settler on stolen Indigenous territories, a sexual assault survivor, a lover of Sylvia Plath and Public Enemy. Touching on such themes as gender identity, pop music, nationhood, video games, and the search for interracial love, this book is a poetic achievement of undeniable scope and significance.
About the author
Sonnet L'Abbé is a mixed-race Black writer, professor, musician, and organizer of Afro-Guyanese, Indo-Guyanese, and Québecois ancestry, and the author of three collections of poetry: A Strange Relief, Killarnoe, and Sonnet's Shakespeare. Sonnet's Shakespeare was a Quill & Quire Book of the Year for 2019, was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize and the Raymond Souster Award, and longlisted for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Their chapbook, Anima Canadensis, won the 2017 bp Nichol Chapbook Award. In 2000, they won the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award for most promising writer under 35. In 2014, they were the guest editor of Best Canadian Poetry in English. L'Abbé lives on Vancouver Island and is a professor of Creative Writing and English at Vancouver Island University.
Excerpt: Sonnet's Shakespeare (by (author) Sonnet L'Abbe)
The crocheted afghan’s mint green, white, and yellow squares were yarny buttons activating superpowers. I wore it like a fabulous cape, or draped it carefully over leggy tables to build a fort. My green and lemon-yellow infinity gear had twenty-thousand superpowers, more than your enemy could ever teach herself to check. In each square lived magic at my fingertips: touch the first corner, become invisible. Ding the second, you shower your befuddled opponent with freezing sparkles. A candy-flavoured gas I called “sweet sleep” numbed villains; an alchemist’s button turned most other metals gold; there was one to give me X-ray vision. A blanket that shot bullets, deathrays, or stunbeams out of yarn-worsted mechanisms chastened many a scoundrel holding commonplace lasers. Friends were issued an older crocheted throw, camel beige, little differentiation between the knitty nodules of power blanketry. You could heal yourself again, after yourself’s decease, with resurrection force; you could spend hours under water, breathing effortlessly; your memory could store answers to a billion tests. With form-shifting power I could become a robotess who obliterates sofa cushions; or my telepathic power use to transfer suggestion of a McDonald’s lunch into Dad’s head. The chums I played with were sometimes real children. But chums were banned from my superfriendship early on: a neighbour’s mom got frightened when SuperZach love-controlled me against the storm door, my afghan’s pushbuttons confiscated; when SuperKevin got turned into a rat, his dad called me a gypsy. Action-figured boys warred outside, me in their brigades, Sonnet of Death, Sonnet of Supernatural Weather Control, bad-ass Sonnet of Dazzling Ebullience. But uneasy mothers wielded a Force, a Shield of Fear, that enveloped domesticity. It repelled loves from, you know, miscegeny. No button had my afghan to fight against Mother Control, no power called Let Your Sons Play House With Sonnet.
“To embody an experience, to retell histories, to open doors and windows—Sonnet L’Abbé’s Sonnet’s Shakespeare is the key. Whether you are versed in Shakespeare or not, you will be mesmerized by L’Abbé’s beautifully choreographed dance through a city’s secrets. She offers movements we’ve not seen before. I want to thank L'Abbé for allowing readers to reside in the space where erasure meets found poem. L'Abbé is a form-bending master.” —Chelene Knight, author of Dear Current Occupant
“Sonnet L’Abbé’s writing in Sonnet’s Shakespeare is simply stunning. L’Abbé’s conceptual engagement with colonial history urges us to consider how deeply internalized and invisible colonial structures can be while also being both an incredibly funny and dazzlingly inventive book. This is brilliant work!" —Jordan Abel, author of Injun
“Sonnet homers Shakespeare! Dense-lush-arcane-jubilant in their brute-belle word swagger, these prose poems take up Shakespeare’s wit-layered language and expand its cardiac capacity. The result is a personal poetix odyssey that confronts and condenses our aching moment in Canadian consumer colonial time. Mouthing Will’s sweet words and tough-smart longings, gunning his impolitic politics and trafficking new gender sweat and sway, loving friends and calling out the frenemies, this fearless brown-girl sonnetteer straps on and refashions poetic speech. Hers is a tale that tells off idiots, signifies everything, and is rooted—as are Shakespeare’s sonnets—in the power of wordly love.” —Erín Moure, author of The Elements