Jules’ Tools for Social Change: Still No Word; an interview with Shannon Webb-Campbell

Welcome to this month’s edition of Jules’ Tools for Social Change, a column that features a book, author or publisher whose work deals with issues of race, gender, sexuality, ability, colonialism, economic justice, or other social justice topics.


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Dear Reader,Welcome to this month’s edition of Jules’ Tools for Social Change, a column that features a book, author or publisher whose work deals with issues of race, gender, sexuality, ability, colonialism, economic justice, or other social justice topics.This month’s feature is Still No Word, a debut poetry collection by Shannon Webb-Campbell, from Breakwater Books. Shannon is an EGALE Canada Human Rights Trust OUT IN PRINT Literary Award winner and a literary critic who served as the Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA) Critic-in-Residence for 2014.From the publisher: “Shannon Webb-Campbell’s Still No Word seeks the appearance of the self in others and the recognition of others within the self. Patient, searching, questioning, and at times heartbreaking—these poems reveal the deeppast within the present tense and the interrelations that make our lives somehow both whole and unfinished. And though Webb-Campbell is political at times, this is not politics for the sake of politics: here, it’s a matter of the human heart. Ranging from reflective to angry, from sensual to humourous, her poetry inhabits that mercurial space between the public and the private, making Still No Word a remarkably accomplished debut collection.”To celebrate Pride Week, Shannon and I spoke by email about her writing, literary criticism, and what she means when she says “poetry is inherently queer.”
‘Til next time,
Still No Word is your first collection of poetry. How long did it take to write this collection? What was the process like?Still No Word is an effort of several years, the cycle of four seasons three times over. The creative process was organic, as I never set out to write a collection of poetry. I just kept the channel open. Inevitably, I ended up with a humble harvest of poems and submitted the manuscript to Egale Canada Human Rights Trust’s inaugural call for the Out In Print Award. The prize included some cash and a publication contract with Breakwater Books in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Abracadabra!You were the Canadian Women in Literary Arts 2014 critic-in-residence. Did your experience there influence your work?Criticism is where I first found my voice as a writer. I’ve been a freelance arts journalist for over a decade, and during my time as Canadian Women in Literary Arts 2014 critic-in-residence I examined the relationship between critical thought and poetry. My work with CWILA supported my creativity, as the two are in conversation. I wrote “An Incomplete Manifesto for Canadian Women In Literary Arts,” as offering of contemplation, revision, and a refusal of mastery. Poetry is a similar attempt. I was writing and editing Still No Word during my tenure.In a review of Ben Ladouceur’s Otter, you said “poetry is inherently queer.” What does this mean?Poetry is the queering of language. Unlike prose, or long form fiction, poetry is about toying with words, metaphor, line breaks and meaning. It is what it isn’t, and isn’t what it is. Queerness is an umbrella term for sexuality and gender deviance. Poetry, like queerness, defies definition. It’s both renegade and rabble-rouser.How are your roles as literary critic and writer related? Is it more challenging to publish a book after being a reviewer?Most editors I’ve worked with over the years knew I was a writer first, a critic second. They could sniff me out even when I didn’t have the nerve to deem myself poet.My roles as literary critic and writer are inter-woven, as criticism feeds creativity. I studied English Literature and Journalism at Dalhousie University, and freelanced my way through as an arts critic. I recently graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from University of British Columbia.In terms of challenges, it’s a juggling act. For many years criticism came first, given it kept a roof over my head, and food in my belly. There was a hunger for criticism, or at the very least a deadline. A few years ago I had to make a conscience decision to put my creative work first. The reviews themselves never harboured the labour. I had to get out of my own way.Whose work inspires you, and can you list a couple of books you would recommend to readers?I’m deeply inspired by Canadian poetry, especially Susan Musgrave, Al Pittman, Mi’kmaw poet Shalan Joudry, Sue Goyette, Dani Couture, Sue Sinclair, Michael Crummey, Zoe Whittall. Brian Brett, and Anne Carson. I’d recommend Crummey’s Under The Keel (House of Anansi) for star lit nights where poetry and possibility collide, Joudry’s Generations Re-Merging (Gaspereau Press) to commune with ancestors, and Sue Goyette’s lyrical hymn OCEAN (Gaspereau) in moments when you need a choir.