The Guest Poetry Blog Series # 2 – Daniel Scott Features Canadian BIPOC Poet Chantal Gibson – Part Two of Two

Canadian poet Chantal Gibson with her visual art in the background. Photo Credit: k.-b.-kadanoff

( EDITOR’S NOTE: Please excuse the distortions in some of the photographed images of Chantal’s poems in this blog post.)

Chantal Gibson from with/holding, Caitlin Press, 2021

Although we have a rich and vibrant poetry community in Canada with voices from a wide range of social locations, perspectives and poetic genres represented, we do not have a significant media presence to bring these voices to a national audience. We do not seem to have a national sense of poets – with a few notable exceptions.  Poets and poetry are regional and local. It is great strength but also a weakness. It does mean we have a lot of poets writing and being heard by their regional audience but we do not have a vibrant national interplay of voices.

My first challenge in writing this guest blog post was to decide whose work from my stacks of poetry books would I  present?  My choice: Chantal Gibson and her break-the-mold 2021 poetry collection with/holding with its innovative use of unusual layouts and design. And, also, because of the focus of this book and her visual art as she describes below from her website:

Working in the overlap between literary and visual art, her work confronts colonialism head on, imagining the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of Colour] voices silenced in the spaces and omissions left by cultural and institutional erasure.

My second challenge, once I picked Chantal and with/holding was how to select individual poems out of a book where the parts are very much part of a unified whole. They all fit together in a particular way. The truest sense and complexity of the book comes clear after reading the book as a contained unity. Most of the poems are long and interrelated – referring both backwards and forwards.

For example. the epigraph poem above is very much related to an earlier poem in the collection: Ad Hominem. The first poem draws on a statue of Simon Fraser and his “discovery voyage” with an intense awareness of Indigenous realities and how spaces are named and claimed. The second poem (aptly named Add Hominum and a great example how Chantal loves wordplay in this collection) plays off the first.

Although Add Hominum might seem a a straight forward description of creating a sculpture it is anything but! It is so much more than it appears. All the violent words in this poem to describe shaping a sculpted face also suggest the likely violence inflicted on the  subject of the sculpture, her BIPOC ancestor.

Chantal is a much celebrated Canadian writer, artist and educator. Her first poetry book How She Read won the 2020 Pat Lowther Memorial Award and the Dorothy Livesay Award and her writing has been long-listed and short listed for a number of other awards. In addition, she received a prestigous 2021 3M National Teaching Fellowship.

Chantal is as important as a visual artist as she is as a writer. Her visual art has been hung in galleries, and can be seen in cultural institutions, across Canada and the US. And Chantal’s diverse artistic talent is displayed so graphically in with/holding, in the way it entangles visual art and poetry through her layout and design. For example, how she uses black blocks with white font, used varied fonts, collapsed lines, erasure and extensive endnotes. Gibson treats the page like a canvas or a site for sculpting words.  The book is a visual as well as verbal exploration. And it does address black/white matters directly, pushing forward commonalities that are insidious clichés. For example:

Chantal Gibson, ibid

To add to a fuller appreciation of Chantal I urge you to visit her website: to see some of her sculptural pieces and how she addresses Black history leaking out of volumes, using black fibre, to make what has been hidden or unsaid visible, while recognizing the place of words and books as sites of exclusion. Chantal strives to make the absent present.

Chantal Gibson, ibid

As a BIPOC descendent of the African-Nova Scotia community she brings an awareness of Canadian racism from family experience (look up Africville and then read her poem Old Souls Halifax, 1950). Her writing is anchored in contemporary Black experience, drawing on current public events as signs useful to interpret life.

Chantal, also, brings a wonderful ironic and dark humour to her work. For example, the section “Holding Patterns” – a series that is modelled on online shopping but aims head-on at racial stereotypes.  The interplay of form and content is effective and challenging as you can see in the visual of one of these poems to the left.

The voice of George Floyd (and others) speak in Blackout (Refrain) the opening page of a longer poem that uses forty-nine pages of black boxes inscribed with white text. This first, single page of the poem, is one repeated line fading to nothing.

Chantal Gibson, ibid

An astonishingly simple device using a visual tool to give the words intensity and impact. The title carries a double meaning that haunts the rest of the 50 pages. The simplicity of language carries a complex social and cultural critique.



















Even in this next, seemingly simple poem that fills two pages, there is lots of space where the interface of technology, culture and Black experience are in play:

In Lieu of Flowers

In lieu of flowers clear your history

In lieu of flowers disable comments

In lieu of flowers turn off notifications

In lieu of flowers switch to silent

In lieu of flowers



(then on its own in the middle of the next page)


This book needs to be seen on the page. page by page. It may also require a reader to expand their sense of a greater  Canadian reality in order to feel the complexity of the poems. I found it hard hitting, brilliantly crafted and challenging as it does not shirk. It takes poetry to a different place with the interplay of visual and verbal. What a visual feast that includes complex ideas and fine poetry!

Guest Blogger: Daniel Scott, September, 2022


  1. Posted September 23, 2022 at 10:36 am | Permalink


  2. Posted September 23, 2022 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Wonderful, Daniel

  3. Posted September 23, 2022 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed reading this, Daniel and Richard

  4. Richard Osler
    Posted September 23, 2022 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Bless you Ursula!

  5. Martha
    Posted September 23, 2022 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Great two-part post, Daniel! Thank you! And thank you, Richard for this series of posts by poets. Really super!

  6. Richard Osler
    Posted September 23, 2022 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Thank you. Miss you.

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