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Interview by Natalie Podaima

Lillian Allen: Internationally acclaimed poet/performer and language innovator, Lillian Allen works at the intersection of dub, sound and rebel poetics. She has several award winning recordings and several critically acclaimed books of poetry. Considered a cultural de-programmer, Lillian has been a strategic initiator of programs, networks and arts organization in the city of Toronto for several decades now. She is a longtime arts activist. now in her sage years and focuses on mentoring the mentors and in intensifying work to decolonize aspects of the Canadian cultural terrain as she remains an instigator for liberation and change. A professor of Creative Writing at OCAD University, she initiated and led the development of Ontario’s only Honours BFA in Creative Writing.

Lillian Allen is the judge for the 2020 Vallum Award for Poetry. With the deadline for this year’s competition fast approaching, we asked Lillian to tell us about her own writing process and share some advice for those submitting.

Can you talk a bit about your writing process, and specifically, how the multidisciplinary nature of dub poetry affects this process — do you begin with words?  With music? Is there one aspect that you prioritize while developing a new piece?

I approach writing my pre and first drafts in a variety of ways. Anything can spark me to write; an idea, an insight, an image, a phrase, an action memory, a rhythm, a pulse, a flash, a clearing away of the brush, an aha moment. I see what flows out of my pen, I try and capture an emotional feel. As I continue to explore and evolve my writing subject, I do some research/searching around. On the side of my page I jot ideas and feelings related to context which helps with why I’m wanting to write the particular piece. I write with creating images/imagery in mind, working with figurative language through the senses. I always think in metaphors too. I usually develop a kind of pulse for the piece and my entire body is involved with the motion of ideas flowing out on the page. It is a deep pleasurable moment in the writing process, like a peak experience. In further developing the piece I have to shape it and then bring the things I understand about the craft to bear making sure it is saying/conveying exactly what I want to get across. In the polish, I shape for meaning and impact. Later on, say if I want to record or perform, I’ll bring those particular skills to create that experience.

To what degree do you consider your audience in your work, and are you seeking to elicit a kind of dialogue? Would you say this is influenced by the act of performance, as opposed to written or recorded work?

Dialogue, engagement with ideas, creating consciousness, sharing & building culture and community, leaving a document, all these things, but the performative aspects are also about creating and engaging in community rituals and being fully embodied and present.

What are you reading right now? 

Larissa Lai’s Tiger Flu, Lee Maracle’s My Conversations with Canadians, In a While or Two We Will Find the Tone: Essays and Proposals, Curatorial Concepts and Critiques by Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, and loads and loads of books for toddlers (which I wish I had written) including Feminist Baby by Loryn Brantz, Woke Baby by Mahogany I Browne illustrated by Theodore Taylor 111, The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland. You can guess, I’m isolating with my granddaughter!


Don’t forget to submit to the Vallum Award for Poetry 2020! First place receive $750 and publication in the upcoming issue of Vallum.
Deadline: July 15th, 2020
For more information and to enter online today, visit our website