They want a voice that performs its wry ownership of literary pedigree, that airily scatters namedrops into a liturgical giving of finger. Matthew Arnold elaborated on the flawless logic that hears genius wherever genius abides: those first-rate men seriously thought, they seriously felt, and their musicality demonstrates their sincerity … although these days, a straight presentation of bare sentiment isn’t white, the same whiteness filter, their discriminatory presumption, slides over full-colour whiteness that doesn’t obsequiously back their genealogy. Can I get an amen? Editors at venerable publishing houses want preeminentness or wunderkinder, maaaybe blackness discreetly softened into lyric-not-invective, a vogue like Langston Hughes’ or Zadie Smith’s. How gracefully Claudia confided her being mad! someone effused to juries. I’d write cheeky kowtows to literary lions and university insiders in skylark-happy strains, adding touches of knowingness—not of prejudice’s affects, but of the oppressor’s burden—to witty, blithe metaconfessionals, if the absence of what’s outlawed, my unliterary shrill, didn’t fuel this composition. I blurt embarrassing, inappropriate speech; curators, annoyed by the nervousness my twitch inflicts on company, make notes to selves not to get L’Abbé for shows; where’s that suretongued frontman Snicket? These workshops aren’t for venting abuse; they’re not therapy! bellow instructors—men who back up against the asses of young protegées, declaring softcore fresh and gritty. To be fair, when I was idealistic and thought race could be uninvented through winning, I insisted on my sameness; I thought if I just could write the joyless blockbuster of truth, explaining once and for all wrongheaded privilege’s unreliable lead, I’d get kissed by blond, athletic former bullies gobsmacked by my phrasing. There, I’ve done it again. Disqualified my brand. The sonnet market expands—indigenous haters, grudging fellows, understand.
Sonnet L’Abbé is a professor at Vancouver Island University. Her chapbook, Anima Canadensis, came out with Junction Books in 2016. “XLV” is from L’Abbé’s upcoming collection, Sonnet’s Shakespeare, in which she overwrites all 154 of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Sonnet’s Shakespeare will be published by McClelland and Stewart in 2018.
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