Who are the members of the League of Canadian Poets? With over 750 members – growing every day -, our membership is diverse. Of course, though, all members have one thing in common: poetry! 6 Pieces on Poetry is our new quarterly series where members of the League will answer our 6 questions. We’ll talk poetry, writing lives & lessons, and inspiration, and through 6 Pieces on Poetry, you’ll get to know our membership a little better.
Today we’re talking poetry with Adebe DeRango-Adem! Adebe DeRango-Adem is a writer and former attendee of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics (Naropa University), where she mentored with poets Anne Waldman and Amiri Baraka. She is the author of three full-length poetry books to date: Ex Nihilo (Frontenac House, 2010), Terra Incognita (Inanna Publications, 2015), and The Unmooring (Mansfield Press, 2018). Find Adebe on Facebook & Twitter.
1. How did poetry become part of your life?
My earliest influence was likely Shakespeare’s sonnets, which I read long before Shakespeare was ever introduced to me by way of formal education. Around the age of 12 I stole some of my mother’s high school poetry, which I remember as being incredibly morbid, and at times frightening. More than the subject matter, however, is that I remembered how full of passion the poetry’s diction was. This wasn’t the kind of writing we were been instructed to read in school.
In my final year of high school, my creative writing teacher (Mr. Morgan) really honed my interest in CW generally and poetry in particular. I noted too that he was passionate about teaching us not only remarkable novels and difficult poems but banned/controversial books as well. So, I may have become a poet because of a combination of morbid thoughts and a love of subversive authors!
Upon graduating high school I spent the summer typewriting every single poem I had written to date, and after choosing the best ones, put together a chapbook called Sea Change (which was subsequently published by Burning Effigy Press in 2007). It was a calling many years in the making, and that I am still “making.”
2. What themes do you explore most consistently through your writing?
I think of themes as exploring relationships: in the case of my writing, between faith and doubt, being and otherness, freedom and responsibility. My books have always been a reflection of my life; they have also been the foundation of that which gives me life. I write about racial identity quite a bit because that is my life; my identity is/always has been raced. I write about love because I have loved and known what true love is, and I write about pain because I have known real pain. I hope my writing can speak to a range of thematics, as I am a writer who has always seen the multiplicity in the singular—my own identity is a refusal of (racial/ethnic/cultural) singularity, and as writers, it’s our collective job to record the multitudes.
3. Do you feel that you’ve found a writing practice that works for you? If yes, can you tell us about it? If not, describe the challenges that you face that prevent you from feeling this way.
I used to be able to write late into the night, but I think late afternoon is now peak time for me. I don’t have a ritualized practice, though I understand writing to be a discipline as much as an art. I have to write in spaces with some kind of white noise, and preferably natural lighting. Sometimes I can write while listening to music, but silence is usually the place where I begin to listen to the “still small voice.” Ideally I would have paper and a pen with black ink, but most importantly, I would hope to have enough peace to let the words come.
4. What lesson that you learned through a creative writing course/workshop/lecture/book sticks with you most presently?
This summer I served as a volunteer with the Humber School for Writers CW program, where I assisted the classes led by Olive Senior. I’ll never forget when she said, “The writer’s country is writing.” It wasn’t meant as advice, but I like to take it with me, hold it to my heart as a kind of remembering. That I am at home where I am writing, and that writing is my home. No one can take it away from me, or exile me from it. It’s a phrase that could many things to many people.
5. What is the importance of community to your writing life?
Making sure that I am continually using my platform—as a writer, editor, and member of the Canadian literary community (of which there are many communities)—to hold space for emerging voices, and specifically those voices that have been marginalized or compromised in some way. I also aim to break down the barriers in the local poetry community (Toronto) between spoken word as performance and poetry reading as literary event because I see my own writing as an offering both for page and stage.
In this vein, I think the work I am doing with Brick Books as Coordinator of the Brickyard—an audio/visual hub proud to showcase excellence in Canadian writers, poets, storytellers and spoken word artists—speaks to this endeavor as well. Brickyard aims to build relationships with potential print-list authors, while simultaneously showcasing the different kinds of poetries being performed in Canada. The aim is to bring communities together while simultaneously expanding the reach and the scope of our audience, which naturally includes diverse community members working in a variety of literary forms. I have published 3 full-length collections of poetry to date, but it was spoken word that really brought me into my own (voice). One of the joys of coordinating the Brickyard is being able to foster cross-disciplinary collaboration through oral history, the arts, and digital media, bringing past, present, and future together.
To note: Brick Books is currently accepting submissions for The Brickyard! Artists selected for new features exclusive to the Brickyard site will receive an honorarium for their work. Adebe DeRango-Adem (I) will be the one curating the submissions. We are especially interested in poets whose work defies the boundaries of genre, and Indigenous poets/storytellers/oral historians are especially encouraged to submit. Find out more here: https://www.brickbooks.ca/brickyard
6. What keeps you going as a writer?
The incredible and often indescribable feeling when you finally land on that line/phrase/word that speaks for its own and on its own, can advocate for its own beauty and necessity. When it gets channeled through you with a curious ease of effort, and you know you’ve arrived. Every time that happens, I feel myself arriving again in that warm place where I am gently reminded of why I should keep writing. Or why I am a writer in the first place. For writing is literally what keeps me going… if not for writing, where might I have gone?
+ bonus: Recommend a book or performance by a Leaguer!
I would like to recommend 2019 Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Awardee for excellence and innovation in spoken word poetry, Andrea Thompson ! Her most recent CD, Solorations, is available through iTunes, Amazon and most online streaming services. Oh, and there is also the anthology I co-edited with Andrea—Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out (Inanna Publications, 2010). Andrea and I will soon be opening a call for submissions for OTHER TONGUES VOL. 2… stay tuned !