2020 Poetry Awards: Interview with Chantal Gibson

Chantal Gibson is the author of How She Read (Caitlin Press), and winner of the 2020 Pat Lowther Memorial Award from the League of Canadian Poets.

Find out more about Chantal’s poetry and process below.


LCP: Tell the story of how your collection came to be.

CG: I would say How She Read started “coming to be” when I was kid watching my mother navigate the world. She was my first book. What I learned about the representation of Black women in Canada started with her. I would say I started “coming to be” in college and university, where I started to really notice the absence of Blackness in my literature classes and across the curriculum. My book is a critical and creative response to those literary and institutional holes.  


LCP: How do you write your first drafts? 

CG: Post-it notes. iPhone notes. Note-book lists. Ideas come in vivid images or catchy phrases or sharp dialogue—like someone’s talking to me. Then I sit in my quiet living room with a morning coffee and the white page and see what happens.  


LCP: Who has had a major impact on your poetry career?

CG: Two figures who have greatly influenced me are Dionne Brand and Lawrence Hill. Brand taught me to pay attention to the integrity of every word. I admire how she balances the criticality of her content with the elegance of her language. In a discussion about The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill taught me about taking care of my reader. If my book contains the darkness and horror of humanity, I must treat my readers humanely and guide them to the end.


LCP: How are you handling pandemic and your poetry work?

CG: I am reading lots of poetry right now. I am using this time to sit still and listen.


LCP: What does poetry mean to you?

CG: I think of poetry as sculpture. Black text, white page. I enjoy working with it as a medium. The poem is also a vehicle for thinking. Because poetry has many styles, forms and constraints, there are lots of places for experimentation and surprise.


LCP: What are your next steps?

CG: I created two art shows based on How She Read. The process of writing and making and writing revealed a lot about the overlap between literary and visual art. I’m interested in investigating a new set of questions, just not sure what form the responses will take.