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

Vancouver Island poet writes over Shakespeare

Sonnet L’Abbé explores colonial thought by superimposing her own poems over the sonnets of the Bard

In Sonnet L’Abbé’s latest book, the Vancouver Island 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.

RELATED: Nanaimo poets appear in anthology critical of CanLit

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.”

RELATED: Nanaimo student a contest finalist for his Shakespeare-inspired soliloquy

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.

RELATED: Vancouver park board passes motion to learn Indigenous place names

“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

Just Posted

VIDEO: James Bay wolf released into wild of western Vancouver Island

Conservation officers confirm wolf is from Discovery Island

John Lennon’s psychedelic Rolls-Royce on display at Victoria’s Royal BC Museum

The classic car has been a favourite for Beatles fans from Victoria and internationally

Coulson Aviation 737 tanker crews back in the air fighting Australian bushfires

CEO walks Australian crash site, pays tribute to fallen flight crew

Greater Victoria man killed in Alberta accident was expectant father

Geordie Murray described as ‘wonderful husband, brother son and friend’

Vancouver Island restaurant not setting trend by adding health charge to your bill

Move not catching on, as small businesses look for options to cover employer health tax

VIDEO: Driver guilty in Saanich crash that left 11-year-old with catastrophic brain injuries

North Saanich woman convicted on one count of dangerous driving causing bodily harm

Alberta premier wants feds to approve Teck mine for benefit of First Nations

Kenney: ‘Surely [reconciliation] means saying yes to economic development for First Nations people’

Police search for man who went missing from Vernon hotel

Jay Rosenberger, 38, was last seen Friday

Filming for Resident Alien begins in Ladysmith

Aliens and excitement take over the streets of Ladysmith during new TV series

Women assaulted in pair of weekend attacks in Port Alberni

RCMP say no reason to suspect attacks are related, but suspects still at large

Crown Isle in Courtenay home to one of lottery’s prize homes

Extras with local BC Children’s Hospital prize include nearby townhouse, vehicles and cash

The Three Bears are down to two after baby bear carving stolen from his perch in Island community

Thief repeatedly kicked it and dislodged it from cement and rebar

NDP suggests easing secondary housing rules for B.C. farmland

Lana Popham proposes guest homes not just for relatives

After four sexual assaults in the same B.C. park, RCMP ask women not to walk alone

Four sexual assaults took place in Glen Park over two months

Most Read