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Commonplace: Conversations with Poets (and Other People)

Rachel Zucker

Commonplace: Conversations with Poets (and Other People)
95 MINMAR 25
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Host Rachel Zucker speaks with poet, playwright, novelist and anti-racist activist M. NourbeSe Philip the day after Philip received the 2020 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature in New York. Rachel begins by asking M. NourbeSe about a line in her acceptance speech: “Being must be sufficient and not contingent.” They talk about “Sawubona,” a greeting used by Zulu and other African cultures, meaning “I see you,” and discuss why M. NourbeSe calls motherhood a form of radical hospitality with organizing principles that stand in critical opposition to those of white supremacy and colonization. M. NourbeSe talks about a healthy distrust of the English language and the impact of a colonial education—for instance, being tested on Wordsworth’s daffodils on her exams when she had never seen one—and the poem she wants to write about Trinidad and Tobago’s golden Poui trees instead. M. NourbeSe also describes the feeling of working at the margins or brink of visible Caribbean literature, writing/living/speaking in a language that is yours but not your ancestors, and how to break open the language in order to express that which cannot be expressed in English. M. NourbeSe explains why she feels like she could only have written She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks and Looking for Livingstone in Canada, while also, at times, feeling like a disappeared writer in Canada. Rachel and M. NourbeSe reflect on the role of “difficulty” in M. NourbeSe’s writing, what is the “right” part/direction of the page, and our capacities to imagine beyond the binary of capitalism and socialism and to imagine freedom and ways of being beyond the constraints of our existing language.