knowledge

Canisia Lubrin

In a little over a month, my first book, Voodoo Hypothesis, will be published. I had set myself to the task of joining my beguilements and doubts in an act of poetic investigation into the contemporary experience of Black otherness in the West through variously intersecting systems of value, belief, and inquiry. I would not in any real sense reject this characterization now, but the writing of this book surprised me in how it evolved, seemingly without my explicit control. Still, I wondered at the difficulties of penning the embodied disenchantments that I sought to reveal and clarify in so doing.

Growing up in St. Lucia, I was often struck by how frequently I was forced to ask the question how do you know? Perhaps I had always been a skeptic. Perhaps I had always been inquisitive. Perhaps I am still jolted by the jungly reality that knowledge is regularly taken for granted, that too many today cannot differentiate between the false word and the true word. Perhaps I learned to question the world for its face value because, while the frequency of such questions did not disappear when I emigrated, the form of my questions, however, did. Yet here I am: a writer. Clearly, I was in training all those years I got into trouble or was simply ignored for asking: how do you know? In retrospect, I understand that my obsession was not with rejecting someone else’s knowledge, but rather with polishing curiosity toward imaginative otherness, and hoping that this negotiation yields something rich in compassion and understanding.

My intrigue with wanting to see the world through someone else’s eyes and my obsession with story, with books, and with art taught me early on that writing is the closest we’ve come to doing that impossible thing.

What follows is not a theoretical discussion of how writers write, nor is it a reaching for certitudes regarding craft. That it challenges the highly regarded dictate to “write what you know” is a small claim beside the task that I have set these eight writers to. These forthcoming conversations take as their point of departure a single question about how the writer goes about mining, refining, and distilling knowledge. These are writers—you will appreciate—thinking about their relationship with writing simultaneously at a remove and in minute detail. None of the writers knew who would be involved in this conversation apart from themselves, and as such, this is a bit of an experiment. You will see that this outcome could have similarly come from a group of writers sitting in a room over food and drink having a discussion.

Indeed, in the old adage of that storied philosopher who tried to set forth a single vision of humanity in six syllables—“I think, therefore I am”—the mode of thought to me is more interesting than the fact of thought. If one can draw parallels between that philosophical underpinning which aims to characterize Homo sapiens in relation to other terrestrial species, one need not look much farther than writing itself.

My intrigue with wanting to see the world through someone else’s eyes and my obsession with story, with books, and with art taught me early on that writing is the closest we’ve come to doing that impossible thing.

As writers, we lay bare everything we are through the things that we write down—we speciate our contact with one another through the magic of what extends from our deepest alcoves through to the printed or pixelated page; that which is built on a singular trust: a willingness to find ourselves revealed in one another’s knowledges. This is how empathy stories itself, the power and vulnerability of moving and being in the world as, or through, someone else—and this is the gift of the writer to the reader. This is why representation is so important, why the true thing (not the convenient thing)—whatever it is—is tantamount.

As guest editor for The Town Crier, I have asked September’s contributors, who are each at different stages in their careers, to illuminate their relationship with knowledge—as a means of apprehension and appreciation of difference—across writing genres. You will see a veteran of poetry, John R. Lee, lay bare his decades-long influences up until the present day. Look forward to the musings of memoirist Simone Dalton. You will peer deeper into the behind-the-scenes of some of Canada’s bright young poets in Gwen Benaway, Allison LaSorda, and Rasiqra Revulva as they leap with the dexterity of dancers through specific ontologies, stylistic ticks. There’s one poet’s lyric essay resulting partly from facing the trauma of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath for her family members left in its wake. You will live—though briefly—with acclaimed multi-genre writer, Priscila Uppal, who takes her recent deeply moving and hilarious play through our single-question ringer. Surely, what is all of this without the unique perspective of an editor? Whitney French, who is set to edit a game-changing anthology, puts to the task her grace, humour, and intellect. You will find a cool, measured puissance in Mark Jordan Manner’s unabashed frolic through the impressive kaleidoscope of his debut novel.

Sincere thanks to these fine writers for making time to take part in (Dis)Order: The Single Question Series. I have seen a great many things I had not imagined through your words.

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