DOROTHY LIVESAY POETRY PRIZE FINALIST
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.
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.
SONNET L'ABBE is the author of two previous collections of poetry, A Strange Relief and Killarnoe, and, most recently, the chapbook Anima Canadensis. In 2000, she won the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award for most promising writer under 35. In 2014, she was the guest editor of Best Canadian Poetry in English. Her work has been internationally published and anthologized. L'Abbé lives on Vancouver Island and is a professor of creative writing at Vancouver Island University.
“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