Review staffers Amber Pinsonneault and Jasmine Elliott recently interviewed the University of Windsor English Department’s Writer-in-Residence M. NourbeSe Philip. We’ve provided an excerpt here; the full interview is available in the upcoming edition of the Review.
Q: What are your intentions with your work involving feminism?
A: The work is about feminism, but I’ve never considered myself a feminist writer, although the principles of feminism certainly infuse my work in the sense that I’m very much using the equality of men and women, and that women should be able to control their reproductive life and everything in their life. I don’t have intentions while I’m writing. I’m trying to clear something up for myself. I do it more for myself than for educating. It’s in everything, something that intrigues me that I don’t know or understand and that I’m trying to figure out. My writing is about figuring something out that I know I won’t figure out before I die – the pop culture moment, the “ah ha” moment. I often think I know what I’m going to say. I know what I’m going to write about – but then I figure out what I’m writing; the aspect of discovery, self-discovery.
“I don’t have intentions while I’m writing. I’m trying to clear something up for myself.”
Q: Would you say Canadian landscape has an effect on your writing as well?
A: Yes, I love winter the most, actually. It is a fascination; I miss the Caribbean most in the summer time, and the winter is so different. I love the stillness that descends upon the land at that time. I think it’s magnificent. In the summer time, it is close enough to the Caribbean but not the Caribbean. You don’t get the same smells; the vegetation isn’t quite as dense as the Caribbean. There is more of a sense of longing, close enough to remind you about it – but with the winter it is so different, so it’s not like anything I’ve seen in my young life. Cape Breton I fell in love with, it reminds me of Tobago; I wanted to bow down. Which in a sense is the effect of beauty that the landscape of Tobago has on me; my only response is to want to pray, and that’s what I felt when I was in Cape Breton. There are also places up north like Lake Superior that is magnificent, majestic in a way. The lake looks like an ocean; you can’t see the other shore. It plays with my head because it reminds me of the Caribbean. It’s not salt water, it’s fresh water. Canada plays a major role for me. Having or loving another place makes it much easier to love another place. Once you have a mother’s love, you can love other people. If you don’t have that bond, it is difficult for you to create other bonds. I think that I take that metaphor to the land; loving Tobago makes me love this land. It doesn’t replace it, but it allows me to love it. I get this sense driving up north, and I got a sense of what Native people feel. I don’t know much about Native spirituality, but I just had an inkling of what it is they talk about and how the land speaks to them and how much of that is lost by this materialistic culture.
“I think that I take that metaphor to the land; loving Tobago makes me love this land.”
Q: How do you feel about the widespread study of your work?
A: It’s fun; I like it. I get e-mails from students all the time saying they have an exam tomorrow and they need help. It’s so amusing, especially with how things have changed. Most of the authors we have studied were dead, so we can’t write to the authors and ask them about their poetry or what they thought. It’s reassuring and comforting that there are people in the world reading my work. Years ago, someone told me they were hiking in a big trail in the States and somebody was quoting Hawkins and I remember thinking that was so exciting and I wish I could hear someone was hiking somewhere and reading and reflecting my work. Someone told me a year ago that they ran into someone’s bathroom and a copy of She Tries Her Tongue was there and I was so excited. I thought, “My God, my poetry is being read in someone’s bathroom.” I will take the attention wherever it comes.
Visit NourbeSe’s website to learn more and listen to audio of her unique poetry. Thanks goes to Cristina Naccarato for the photos.