Author Spotlight: Shannon Webb-Campbell, 2024 Ellemeno Prize recipient

Recipient of the inaugural Ellemeno Visual Literature PrizeShannon Webb-Campbell is of Mi’kmaq and settler heritage. She is a member of Flat Bay First Nation. Her books include Re: Wild Her (Book*hug, forthcoming 2025), Lunar Tides (2022), I Am a Body of Land (2019), and Still No Word (2015), which was the recipient of Egale Canada’s Out in Print Award. Shannon is a PhD candidate at the University of New Brunswick and the editor of Visual Arts News Magazine.

Of Shannon’s winning poem, “Her Eros Restored,” prize jurors Sue MacLeod, Jessica Scott Kerrin, and Carol Shillibeer had this to say:

“‘Her Eros Restored’ loosens a too-tight corset—each of its poetic sections responding to Les Chiffons de La Châtre — Corsets roses [Rags of the Castle — Pink Corsets] (1960) by Gérard Deschamps. It does so by reclaiming small moments of feminine autonomy. From the first section’s ‘catapulting through moonlight… on the equinox’ to the last section’s ‘tangle like root vegetables,’ the poem perceives a world in which a person of mixed heritage, devalued within the dominant culture, can both fly above its restrictions and simultaneously dance with the earth and sea—so that life feels as if a new story is being born—a story of power, energy, love, and authenticity. No mean achievement. This is a thing of beauty.”

Read “Her Eros Restored” below, followed by our interview with Shannon.

Her Eros Restored
after Gérard Deschamps, Les Chiffons de La Châtre – Corsets roses, printemps 1960

 

1
on the last day of summer
we catch a Trans-Atlantic flight over midnight
catapulting through moonlight
before a swirling hurricane
makes landfall on the Equinox
we kick up our heels
as the city of light embraces
its second new year

 

 

2
at Le Comptoir Parisen alone
I write long after Anaïs Nin
for a world that does not exist
she was the first of her kind
to pursue pleasure for its own sake
I am now a sultry femme
a visionary sprite
who splits, sips and slurps

 

 

3
we are drinking champagne with the rats
on the steps of the Pantheon
beneath the only star in Paris
you toast to the writers and philosophers
gulping brut out of paper cups
I thank the poets, chemists, and revolutionaries
blood buzzed we tiptoe backwards
walking separately along the Seine

 

 

4
I need to break the glass of Deschamps’
Les Chiffons de La Carte—Corsets roses
smashing the patriarchy I must
set women’s rags and underwear free—
it’s no longer springtime in the 1960s, ladies!
unhinge your brasseries, panties, corsets and girdles
let the old girls breathe and fight back beyond
wives, mothers, child-eaters, witches and whores

 

 

5
you see the house lights
Illuminate Palais Garnier
I am strapped inside the opera house
on a boat ride of toil-and-trouble woes
charting a three sisters’ tragedy
waves of love, lust and revenge
while fancy Parisians take candlelit selfies
you wander alone in the rain

 

 

6
years after the wages of crude men
where I got cornered on slick streets
whose too aggressive tongues
pushed me hard down cobblestone
I became a Paris runaround
wearing my extravagant outfits—
pleather dresses, pleated skirts, fanciful feathers
you restored my best lace

 

 

7
reading e.e cummings’ erotic poems out loud
under covers we tangle like root vegetables
wrapped up in borrowed sheets you read to me
around you and forever: I am hugging the sea
tracing my lips with your wet fingertips
you tell me your only wish
a desire to draw me nude
but you never do

Andy Verboom (WFNS Program Manager): Tell us about your influences, Shannon. In your regular writing practice, how do the works of other artists and writers guide your hand? Do you think your primary literary form—poetry—is particularly attuned to influence from artistic others?

Shannon Webb-Campbell: My regular writing practice spans all kinds of inspirations from other artists and writers. As the editor of Visual Ars News and Muskrat Magazine, I spend a lot of time experiencing, reflecting on, and writing about art. I frequently visit galleries, engage with artists, and have my own visual practice. Art has leaked into my poetic practice. Tuning into other art forms encourages us to think, see, and feel differently. To experience the bends of sorts. As a poet, I draw from artistic others but also from poetry in general. Poetry bends language. Perhaps it encourages us to bend with life, too.

AV: I like this metaphorical knitting of “the bends”—a dramatic bodily disorientation in a rapidly changed environment—with the more common connotations of “bending,” like refraction and flexibility. Do you experience impactful artworks as productive disorientations? Put another way, do artworks need to disorientate us in order to shift our perspectives?

SWC: This is an interesting question, Andy. Part of me feels like, when I am disoriented, I look to art as a way of orienting, but perhaps it’s vice versa. Sometimes I am seeking pleasure, other times intellectual nourishment, but most often, I am interested in new ways of seeing the world, a disruption or shift from my own point of view. Art does this. Poetry also works in this way, too. When they are impactful, I think art and poetry are incredibly rich and productive forms of disorientation, a space where we can detach from our day-to-day thoughts and give our creative minds room to spark. Art and poetry are means to open up new possibilities, different ways of thinking and experience new and old life cycles.

AV: Your artist’s statement for “Her Eros Restored” mentions encountering Deschamps’s Les Chiffons de La Châtre during a research trip to Paris. What were you there to research, and how did that topic lead to you to this artwork at the Centre Pompidou?

SWC: In autumn of 2022, I travelled to Paris to saturate myself in art, architecture, and beauty as part of sketching out my next poetry collection, Re: Wild Her (which is forthcoming with Book*hug in 2025), and I encountered Deschamps’s Les Chiffons de La Châtre at the Centre Pompidou for the second time.

The first time I visited the work was on a solo trip to Paris in 2009, which was after selling most of my belongings, including my clothes, and hosting a small lomography art show, Moving Pictures, at Love, Me Boutique on Dresden Row to help fund my trip. Deschamps’s Les Chiffons de La Châtre left an impression in my mid 20s, but what struck me was how different I felt experiencing the work for a second time, which all these years later still bears the traces of the bodies who wore the rags and discarded women’s underwear. “Her Eros Restored” is a poetic attempt to overthrow the patriarchy, subvert the male gaze, and set these bodies and their discarded under linens and corsets free.

AV: “Her Eros Restored” is included in that fourth, forthcoming poetry collection, Re: Wild Her. As you approach a book-length collection, how do you think about its individual poems? And what does it mean, for you, to further separate a poem into individual parts or sections?

SWC: I initially imagined writing “Her Eros Restored” as a long poem but got distracted. Other poems interrupted the flow of that idea. Initially, I conceived of it as a numerical poem, but that’s evolved recently through the editing process with my fabulous editor, Sandra Ridley. The version of “Her Eros Restored” that won the first-ever Ellemeno Visual Literature Prize has gone through its own rewilding process and will appear slightly altered in the published book.

I think separating the poem into parts or sections lets each stanza exist as its own nesting doll. The space and line breaks are important to give the poetics room to breathe, as well as air out those fleshy pink corsets and panties that have been under Deschamps’s glass since the 1960s.

AV: Is there an echo, then, between the process of composing “Her Eros Restored”—the interruption and return to Deschamps’s work—and the space essential to the poem’s structure? Or am I overcomplicating things?

SWC: Honestly, I don’t think I had the poetic tools to draw upon when I first encountered Les Chiffons de La Châtre. In fact, the only piece of writing I published from my first trip to Paris are two letters included in When The Nights Are Twice As Long: Love Letters of Canadian Poets, an anthology edited by David Esso and Jeanette Lynes (Goose Lane, 2015). The anthology features over 129 love letters by English Canadian poets P.K. Page to F.R. Scott, Leonard Cohen, Louis Riel, Milton Acorn’s letters to his former wife Gwendolyn MacEwen, and Susan Musgrave’s letters to her late husband Stephen Reid.

AV: How does Re: Wild Her fit into the arc of your earlier collections?

SWC: Still No Word (Breakwater 2015), which was the inaugural recipient of Egale Canada’s Out in Print Award, seeks the appearance of the self in others and the recognition of others within the self, and it inhabits the mercurial space between public and private. Edited and introduced by Lee Maracle, I Am a Body of Land (Book*hug 2019), is a complex revisioning of an earlier work exploring poetic responsibility and accountability. Lunar Tides imagines the primordial connections between love, grief and water, structured within the lunar calendar. In a way, Re: Wild Her follows the arc of my earlier books as a poetic extension, but is a text entirely its own.

 

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