“We are all born into a story”: In Conversation with Shannon Webb-Campbell | Book*hug Press

“We are all born into a story”: In Conversation with Shannon Webb-Campbell

Today, we pick up our In Conversation series with Shannon Webb-Campbell, author of the poetry collection Lunar Tides.

Expansive and enveloping, Lunar Tides asks, “Who am I in relation to the moon?” These poems explore the primordial connections between love, grief, and water, structured within the lunar calendar. Written from a mixed Mi’kmaq/settler perspective, Lunar Tides also explores the legacies of colonialism, kinship and Indigenous resurgence.

In our interview, Webb-Campbell speaks towards Lunar Tides as a work born of a process of grieving. We discuss the ways family stories, romantic relationships, and the natural world orient us in the rhythm of being and provoke creativity.

B*H: What drew you to lunar phases as a structural motif for the collection?

SWC: While I pay attention to lunation phases as a way to chart the ebbs and flow of life, nothing quite struck me as seeing the first full moon when my mother passed. She died on a Sunday morning on a waning crescent moon, just before the Santa Claus parade hit the streets of Toronto. Moments after she took her last breath, I remember hearing all these children’s voices sing out. The moon became the only marker of time to measure the last time I was in the room with her.

I started thinking about what phase the moon was in when I was born, and it turns out it was a waning crescent. The moon became a structural motif for the collection because the lunar phases are strong enough to carry grief, which despite being non-linear also has its own rhythm, and the cycles of the moon illuminate how loss is merely a measurement of how deeply we loved.

B*H: In “Ecology of Being,” the human is positioned as “intervention / between land and sky.” Is nature essential to human meaning?

SWC: We are all nature. We are made of bones and flesh, but we are also earth and sky. We come from the grandmothers and grandfathers, who are both the moon and rocks.  It keeps us in check. I am answering these questions while looking out the narrows, and the steep cliffs surrounding St. John’s harbour. I simultaneously feel both small and insignificant, yet larger than life, which humbles me.

The land and waters will outlast us all.

B*H: Throughout Lunar Tides there are two central forms of loss. There is the loss of the maternal body, in the passing of your mother. And the loss of the paternal heritage, a Mi’kmaq ancestry, “Mi’kmaq blood / something no one wrote down,” “the fathers branches left blank,” a history extinguished by colonial destruction.

Do these forms of loss bump against one another and interact, or do they occupy separate spaces in your consciousness?

SWC: Loss is inherent to life, and in my experience, the loss of the maternal body through the passing of my mother, and the loss of the paternal heritage of Mi’kmaq ancestry are in conversation with one another. In a way, they are deeply connected.

I’ll never forget what the late and great Lee Maracle said as she introduced me when we launched I Am a Body of Land, and it’s that we are born with our mother and father’s voice inside of us.

In terms of consciousness, I am coping by writing a novel that explores the colonial destruction of Mi’kmaq identity, and grapples with the settler/Indigenous perspective I was born into and straddle with and through my maternal and paternal lineage.

B*H: Was writing Lunar Tides part of a process of grieving?

SWC: Writing Lunar Tides was inextricably linked to my on-going grieving process. It kept me alive when I had no idea how to exist, and helped me stay connected to my mother and our earthly relationship. Perhaps the poetry is a different kind of offering, or means of mediating life.

Grief is a mindfuck – it plays with your sense of time, meaning, and reconfigures your entire life. It changes your relationships, both to the person you lost, but also to yourself and those around you. It throws everything you’ve ever known off kilter. In a way, I am still grief-sick and reeling.

While I don’t think grief ever ends, I do believe literature is a powerful elixir. It has the ability to hold what cannot be contained, literature witnesses our darkest places, and offers solace. I read for the same reason I write – to connect, to find comfort, to hold light.

B*H: What is the relationship between one’s origins—home, parenthood, family story—and one’s creativity?

SWC: We are all born into a story. One’s origin story is part of how we understand ourselves, and establishes a sense of purpose and meaning. It can form a relation to the roots of our creativity, whether this is nourished as a young person, or you become a creative out of an act of rebellion.

No matter how far we carve out our lives, it seems at the end of this life, we all want to go back home. Many of us want to share our story, and honour how we got here. Perhaps it’s in the making we can creatively return.

B*H: This collection features a romance. Is romantic love part of the ebb and flow of life’s cycles, or does it disrupt the circularity of being?

SWC: In some shape or form, love is how we all got here, and it’s how we’ll leave this place. Love is the circularity of being. Romantic love can offer a bird’s eye view – at high tide we are beyond the gravitational pull, and then we meet again at low tide to walk the ocean floor of our mortality.

B*H: Lunar Tides is also interested in theory—the ways it connects us and also does harm by oversimplifying, gatekeeping, and so on. Is this something you struggle with as a PhD candidate working in academia?

SWC: Academia is deeply rooted in colonial systems, but there are some radical thinkers who are pushing boundaries, and awakening to new theories, ways of being, and honouring lived and creative experience. Many academics are doing the decolonial work, shifting their praxis, and opening doors to many of us who have been pushed away, disrupted, or harmed by the academy.

I am at a crossroads with academe, both frustrated and infatuated.

B*H: Can poetry be theory?

SWC: Poetry is a form of theory, but is also the antithesis to theory.

B*H: What were you reading while writing Lunar Tides?

SWC: While I was writing Lunar Tides, I completed three comprehensive exams in Indigenous Literatures, Canadian Literature and my special fields. Each of the exam lists span 50-80 books or more, so I read a lot of Katherena Vermette, Liz Howard, Lee Maracle, Billy-Rae Belcourt, Megan Gail Coles, Michelle Porter, Douglas Walbourne-Gough, Dionne Brand, Kaie Kellough, and too many to list.  Also, I took a graduate course with Lucas Crawford on Virginia Woolf’s body of work for the first time, and it called forth Woolfish poems I wouldn’t have written otherwise.

B*H: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

SWC: I hope readers who are grieving find some comfort in its lunation, and remember we made of tidal rhythms.

Shannon Webb-Campbell is a mixed Indigenous (Mi’kmaq) settler poet, writer, and critic. She is the author of Still No Word (2015), recipient of Eagle Canada’s Out in Print Award, and I Am A Body of Land (2019; finalist for the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry). Shannon holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, and a MA in English Literature at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, and is pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of New Brunswick in the Department of English. She is the editor of Visual Arts News Magazine. Shannon is a member of Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation and lives in Kijpuktuk/Halifax in Mi’kma’ki.

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