Canisia Lubrin’s second full-length collection is an ambitious project, combining a lyric attention to the representation of the self with an epic scope and focus on the fate of a community, in this case on a planetary scale. The dedication reads, “For the impossible citizens of the ill world.” Lubrin has publicly acknowledged the influence of Dionne Brand’s writing on her work, and The Dyzgraphxst echoes the elegiac tone of Brand’s Inventory or Thirsty. The dramatic structure of Lubrin’s long poem – divided into seven acts with a dramatis personae, prologue, monologue, and epilogue – further complicates its relationship to genre, while the titles of each act – which invoke Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” – insert the poem into a wider diasporic African tradition.
Just as “x” replaces the expected “i” in the title of the book, the poems interrogate that “I” so foundational to neo-liberal capital, with its reduction of political and ecological action to the consumerist choices of individuals. Dysgraphia, a condition that adversely impacts writing ability, here seems broken into its etymological components, suggesting a writing of dystopia rather than an impairment of writing. Interspersed with the English text are passages in the Creole of Lubrin’s native St. Lucia, “an exhumed patois.” The poetry here gestures toward a dystopic global condition of climate change (“the scorching heat of a moneyed world”), war, and mass migration, rather than presenting it directly: “the millions jostling for space / among all the dead things kept alive.”
While the first two acts maintain a consistent pattern of tercets, the text opens up into eclecticism in “Act III: Ain’t I Épistémè?,” comprising alternating “Dream” and “Return” sequences in varying forms, from prose poetry to shaped or visual poems. As the sequences progress, each poem begins to conclude with different permutations of the phrase “I have a problem with dream.” This is but one example of how refrains and other recurrences – repetitions with a difference – structure and suture the entirety of The Dyzgraphxst, offering some familiar points of reference in what can be at times an overwhelming, dense poetic text. And that is the great challenge, but also the gift, of The Dyzgraphxst: each individual poem demands (and rewards) careful attention, an attention that can be difficult to sustain across the book’s ambitious length.
“Act V: Ain’t I Too Late?,” introduces further fracturing of what limited linear coherence inhabits these poems in a series of brief lines with footnotes that extend the poem on the bottom of the page, gesturing toward infinite possibilities of spatial and referential dispersal. By the concluding act, “Ain’t I Again?,” the voice begins to cohere, to find its way home to family and to place, “on the lawn of a sea-spanning country, a sung-of / citizen, flung out to freeze, from what formlessness.” If Lubrin’s 2017 debut, Voodoo Hypothesis, presented a significant new poetic talent on the Canadian scene, The Dyzgraphxst marks a considerable development in that talent’s achievement.