Today Nanaimo poet and VIU professor Sonnet L’Abbé releases her latest book of poetry, Sonnet’s Shakespeare . (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

VIU professor writes over Shakespeare in new book of poetry

In ‘Sonnet’s Shakespeare,’ Sonnet L’Abbé superimposes her own poems over the sonnets of the Bard

In Sonnet L’Abbé’s latest book, the local poet and VIU professor superimposes her own truth and experience over the words of William Shakespeare.

Four hundred and 10 years after the publication of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, L’Abbé presents Sonnet’s Shakespeare, in which she takes the Bard’s 154 sonnets and inserts new words and letters to create 154 original poems.

She said the book, available at Chapters and the Nanaimo Art Gallery, was inspired by erasure poetry, a style of poetry in which a poet starts with source text and then erases portions to make a new poem from what remains.

That got L’Abbé thinking about an editor’s ability to silence the voice that comes before them, which she then applied to her practice of challenging ideas around Canadian identity, stories and multiculturalism.

She said erasing a person’s voice or difference doesn’t necessarily mean getting rid of them entirely.

“If you just surround that person until they feel uncomfortable expressing their difference, then you can just erase all of that difference just by assimilating what came before,” L’Abbé said. “So thinking about that form of cultural erasure made me invent this process of erasing Shakespeare’s sonnets, not by deleting the text, but by breaking up the text and surrounding it. So in each sonnet the whole Shakespeare sonnet is there on the page but is kind of invisible.”

L’Abbé chose Shakespeare as her target because she’s been analyzing his poetry since she was a child and because his work is “the epitome of colonial educational material.”

“British educators used Shakespeare to teach people what proper English is and what the height of British literary accomplishment looks like and what culture looks like,” L’Abbé said. “So Shakespeare as a colonial tool is something that is pretty widely acknowledged.”

In some cases, L’Abbé’s poems directly comment on the sonnets they are imprinted upon. She noted that Shakespeare’s Sonnets begins with a lot of fawning love-letters to a “golden youth,” and ends with angrier, darker pieces addressed to a “dark lady.”

“The dark lady is ugly and bad and the golden male youth is good and beautiful and deserves to live on in literature and in life,” L’Abbé said. “So the book is about so many different things, but one of the arcs of narrative is how does it feel to be a dark-skinned lady in a culture that has been teaching you from its most exulted, lofty position that you are the undesirable thing? How does that play out at a frat party? Not well.”

L’Abbé said she wants Sonnet’s Shakespeare to leave people thinking about how their identity is connected to the land that they’re on and how romantic choices and colonial attitudes are intertwined.

“It’s impossible to think about race in this country without really thinking about the land that we’re on…” L’Abbé said. “We’re in a colonial time and there’s a dominant culture, so one of the [book’s] arcs traces how it’s been to try to find love and try to create a family in that environment.”

WHAT’S ON … Sonnet’s Shakespeare book launch takes place at the Nanaimo Art Gallery, 150 Commercial St., on Sept. 25 at 6:30 p.m. No cover.



arts@nanaimobulletin.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: It’s Island’s turn for investment in light rail

Convert rail right-of-way to a double-tracked light rail system, says letter writer

Nanaimo RCMP community policing needs a few good volunteers

Volunteers needed to help Nanaimo RCMP and city deliver crime prevention and safety programs

RDN signs deal with Nanaimo Recycling Exchange to conduct waste audits

RDN working on mandatory waste-separation bylaw for industrial, commercial, institutional sectors

March to protect old growth, stop industrial logging coming to Nanaimo

Organizers say they want to give frontline communities a bigger say in nearby logging

Conservation officers free fawn stuck in fence in Nanaimo

Fawn was uninjured after getting caught in fence in Hammond Bay area Wednesday

Record-breaking 165 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed in B.C. in 24-hour period

Fifty-seven people are in hospital battling the novel coronavirus

Beefs & Bouquets, Sept. 16

To submit a beef or a bouquet to the Nanaimo News Bulletin, e-mail bulletinboard@nanaimobulletin.com

Long-term care need pressuring acute care in Comox Valley, Strathcona

Region could use a couple of large facilities for seniors on the north part of the Island

B.C.’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan: Top 5 things you need to know

Jobs training, tax incentives for employers to hire staff and more

B.C. releases details of $1.5B economic recovery plan, $660M in business tax incentives

Economic plan includes support for employers, as well as training for workers

‘Not criminally responsible’ hearing slated for man convicted of Abbotsford school stabbing

Gabriel Klein was found guilty in March of killing Letisha Reimer, 13, in 2016

Most Read