Where Fable, Narrative and Spoken Word Meet: Catherine Kidd’s Hyena Subpoena

As a spoken word artist myself, I am always excited to see other performance poets make it onto a shortlist for a poetry award. This is especially true when the poet is someone I admire and whose work has inspired me to take risks in my own creative process. I am honoured today to host one such poet on our blog, Catherine Kidd.

launchposterCatherine’s collection of poems and soundscapes is shortlisted for The Raymond Souster Award which is given for a book of poetry by a League of Canadian Poets member published in the preceding year. The award honours the late Raymond Souster, an early founder of the League of Canadian Poets. The award carries a $1,000 prize and its winner (Patrick Lane) was announced at the LCP Annual Poetry Festival and Conference in Winnipeg this past May.

This year’s jury was moved by the work, saying that this confluence of fable, narrative, and spoken word exhibits important messages about living in a harsh and bewildering world. Kidd shows a unique perspective in a deeply moving and wise way. Hyena Subpoena is moralistic and important for its carefully constructed use of language and sound play.

What inspired this book of poetry? 

It was less a single inspiration than a convergence of the What with the How. There were stories I wanted to tell, but their proper context would need to include some comment on the nature of power imbalance; the poems would focus on dynamics, not solely on an individual narrative.

In 2007 I was invited to a poetry festival in Cape Town, curated by great South African writers Antjie Krog (Country of my Skull) and Ingrid de Kok (Terrestrial Things). There were poets from all over Africa and over the world to meet and listen to, my learning curve mountainous.

0002915977_10Afterward, partner Geoff and I spent some weeks in famed Kruger Park, sleeping in a tent and spending days in our rental car, scanning the scenery for leopards, lions, rhinos, hyenas, hippos, giraffe, buffalo, lilac-breasted rollers and Marabou storks, dung beetles and mongoose, up close, or too close, as once with a peevish bull elephant.

To watch how different species interact among themselves and with each other was fantastic, and inevitably suggested social hierarchies, characters and narratives. Dynamics of predator vs. prey, individual vs. collective, freedom vs. captivity, are clear patterns in nature, yet are built of individual narratives, just as in human society.

I described Hyena Subpoena to a friend as a brick thrown through a window, then had to consider whence the brick was thrown. Someone was captive inside so she threw a brick, or someone outside was visiting the damned old place and threw a brick to mark the occasion. Urgency and nostalgia both.

I wanted to write about alienation, mental illness, how a life can spin out of control and fall through the cracks, or not. Why this might happen to one person but not another under similar circumstances; the element of chance, the injustice inherent in it. Why one young antelope gets picked off while another manages to escape; maybe one was faster, or maybe there is no reason.

The hyena is at the helm because of its bad reputation, that it laughs too loud at unfunny things. Despite its unique powers, it has come to represent liars, cowards, and cheats. Such ways of misreading are compelling to me, because they’re often responsible for exiling certain sectors of human society to the outskirts as well.

There are two young girls at the centre of the Hyena Subpoena poems, but one jof them (Molly) we never hear from directly. We learn only incidentally that things turn out quite badly for her. That outcome becomes linked with her voicelessness. The idea of stories begetting stories is deeply motivating to me; that hearing a story might make a hearer want to tell one.

The theme for this year’s National Poetry Month is food. If your book were a meal, what would it be?

Slow-roasted root vegetables.

308412_10150359541632206_511862205_8103798_133381313_n[1]You are this century’s Rilke composing your Letters to a Young Poet. What is your advice?

Be as porous as possible, such that every sense and synapse is a voluptuous organ breathing in and out truths and lies about the world. This state is so excruciating that it must eventually yield poetry, in the creation of its porous exoskeleton, intricate and perforated, built from bits of sediment the single cell has taken (see Radiolaria).

Practice penmanship, spelling, typing, and especially elocution. Find these fun.

Catherine Kidd is a Montreal-based writer/performer, best known for her zoology-themed performance poetry. A graduate of Concordia’s MA program in Creative Writing, she was twice recipient of the Irving Layton Award. She has taught writing at Concordia, through the Quebec Writer’s Federation, and also through the Fondation Metropolis Blue. Her writing appears in Matrix, This Magazine, Toronto Quarterly, Branch, and P.E.N. International. Her poem Human Fish opened the Spier Arts Poetry Festival in Cape Town, South Africa in 2007. You can visit with her online at www.catkidd.com