Feb 102017
 

sonnet-l'abbe

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These three poems are a selection from Sonnet L’Abbé’s current book project — Sonnet’s Shakespeare — an “erasure-by-crowding” in which she overwrites or “colonizes” all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

I make prosey poems you’d have to erase to find Shakespeare again. Think of the blank page as a territory I want to live on, and Shakespeare’s sonnet as culture I find already there, where I want to be. I don’t stress: I just patiently occupy the space, letter by letter, in between and all around the letters of that first nation until you can’t see it anymore. But it’s still all there, each letter of Shakespeare’s poem, in order, inside mine. The whole thing’s an analogy for colonialization.

— Sonnet L’Abbé, in an interview published in Partisan, August 18, 2015.

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XXXIX

O holy night, what should my words do at this wishful time? Humans want their Charismatic Day. I sing when night thoughts star the dark familiar holiday theatre. A better poet’s art softens me when that cynical enmity threatens to make me disown praise. A poet whose mind frees its owned self brings a kindness I wish for, that isn’t about making sincerity shows for occasion. When Emily praised, the space between her verbs opened onto formless, ethereal consciousness and let us drift above its depths. Would that William’s verse animated our dinner conversations, or that his love’s eloquence seeped into family get-togethers! If only Gertrude’s jingles were intoned in the malls! People might buy back their lost selves, by paying visionary attention. Tonight may I give that sweet duende to those sad-hearted, whose gifts reach out hopefully toward undeserving takers. Christmas loneliness mourns the absence of fellowship that wants story and meaning, of kin that would strengthen our practice of love. We gather together to imitate a normal family that hardly exists, but our likenesses find pleasure in comforting avoidance, in taking sweet leave together from commitments. There are those happy families, resembling each other, whose intimacies we either inhabit or have to struggle to achieve. The rest of us love awkwardly, shoving purchases at family members, adding and subtracting from the account of our generosity. These poems delight a sensibility so sweet and acutely seldom cultivated, that despite their craft and expensive inspiration, they do not charm most of the fellow humans I treasure. Couldn’t the sonnet be how to make an occasion felt? What if instead of buying, we praised in mad flyting the epic mystery of our togetherness? Brother, for whom I stupidly forgot to purchase a thing, let this evidence of your gift prove your mattering to me.

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LXXII

Hole was the mother, fucking. Women smashed. Pennyroyal tea drunks holding out for rupture. Loud substance, a fuck-you for teens to recite—what mess, a pre-Ritalin smellivision, a neediness murderess. Alt-bitch beauty contusions. Housewife on ludes. Love, after Grammy nods, after Kurt’s death—dogeared Love is on the floor, getting media requests. Little Frances is in Vogue. Prove your authentic pop-metal contempt, affect a high-energy nothingness, swore the nineties. Apathy approves the tuneless melody of fucked-up. Washington punk grrrls dated peevish boymen whose fuckboy mentality trivialized grrrls’ true hardcore sound. Sleater-Kinney and Bratmobile do more for me now than mainstream frontwomanned crews like Veruca Salt did – I was innocent, awkward, hanging around more popular party girls who threw up on boyfriends’ records, who teased Rollins boys with ambition. Niggaz barely registered in the truth-wound of plaid thrill-will; Fishbone’s singles played in campus late rotations but let’s face it: Olympia’s revolutionary sluts were acutely pale. Overanalyzing grunge may seem false, but its nevermind ethos informs the anti-sympathy humours of today’s hipster disinclinations. Its alternative to the spoiled, makework eighties rocked Billboard but felt meaningful and true—or maybe my nostalgia just remembers Bikini Kill subculture with more foreshadow than it deserves. My body, having dissociated the anger Dickless expletived, had faith no more but could thrash shame in mosh pits. No one ever mentioned riot grrrls’ lyrics to us, lines full of rape gripes and mock slut-shame. College douchebags played 7 Year Bitch’s anti-patriarchy CDs while coercing frosh virgins; bros being bros before there was a name for such dudes. How shocking that we could be yelling that loud, yet be so Lovelied, mouthing screams like sweet nothings we weren’t worth.

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LXXVIII

The son of the father vanquishes the villain; the values spoken in undertones heretofore, now mighty: multiculturalism, liberalism, a blonde wife. Don’t misunderstand; I’m much relieved, less fearful of this heir than his predecessor. A critical stance in my verse was evidence of my contrary, alien penchant to that government; my words could be used against me. Order under the Trudeau theocracy will, surely, return poesy to its sponsored position? Poetry was once the nation’s keen mythbuilder, the stuff that taught the dumb Ontario high school kids to sing Acorn. Today what earnest verse can stay the ignorance algorithmically grafted into our flag-flying psyche? What kid grieves Canada’s debt to Sacred Feathers? In Toronto the liberal aura now reddens the right wing. I wake and give thanks to unknown grace that Canada’s troubled majesty’s government might yet be most proud of its Charter. The lines which I compose can register less war-whoop, less policed influence. “It’s two thousand fifteen” is the comeback from the golden child, born of the father, who includes mothers and wows dorks. I’ve been the brown mug for do-good leftists before; my trust wants mending, with more than style and nods to the arts. With defaced faith I try to answer to the poet’s grace and sing the braced heart’s belief in the boys’ clubs’ better natures. I’m Cohen’s ohm, saying Joshu was a rapist. I’m Duncan Campbell Scott’s masculinity, articulating Canada’s id. I’m those boys’ meritocratic ideal, my self-governance as highbrow as Literature’s. How now, Justin? How savage are my rude designs on your inheritance?

—Sonnet L’Abbé

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Sonnet L’Abbé is the author of A Strange Relief and Killarnoe, and was the 2014 guest editor of Best Canadian Poetry. Her first chapbook, Anima Canadensis, came out from Junction Books on November 19, 2016 at the “Meet the Press” Indie Literary Market in Toronto. L’Abbé lives on Vancouver Island and is a professor of creative writing at Vancouver Island University.

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