Juno-winning Toronto dub poet Lillian Allen has been named Vancouver Island University’s Gustafson Distinguished Poet for 2021.
On Feb. 10 and 11 Allen will be giving a lecture, reading and Q-and-A as the VIU Ralph Gustafson Chair of Poetry. The program has welcomed poets to speak and share their work at the school since 1999 but this year, due to COVID-19, the event will be taking place online.
Allen is a central figure in Canadian dub poetry, a form of performance poetry that emerged out of Jamaican dub music in the 1970s. She is the author of six books and has recorded nine albums, including Revolutionary Tea Party and Conditions Critical, winners of the Juno Award for Best Reggae/Calypso Recording in 1986 and 1989, respectively. Allen currently teaches creative writing at the Ontario College of Art and Design.
She said she enjoys having conversations about her work and answering questions, particularly from young people. She said “that is how we generate community and actually advance our knowledge.”
“Rock stars play a stadium and they drop the gospel and then people go home and I’m like, ‘No, no, no. That should never be,’” Allen said. “You stay up there and let people ask you some questions. Let them challenge you. Let them ask you for clarification. So I love the idea of people wanting a dialogue.”
In her lecture Allen will be discussing her work in the larger context as writing as social practice. She describes herself as “somebody who works from a cultural position with a distinct social agenda and political agenda and spiritual agenda” and she’ll be encouraging students to find their own positions and what they stand by and to articulate those thoughts through their poetry.
“I want to inspire them,” Allen said. “And I want them to see that and to feel and to think and to know that they’re important and that their voices are important and that is key to our diversity and our society, our democracy.”
In her reading Allen will be presenting material from across her catalogue that covers “some ideas that are warm and nurturing and some ideas that are meant to wake people up.” Some of her newer work draws connections between living under a pandemic and the experiences of young black men and “not knowing if you go to the store if it’s a death sentence.”
“The work is meant to be provocative,” Allen said. “In that it raises questions and it challenges the reader through language and artistic means to consider certain things in society and their own responses and culpabilities.”
WHAT’S ON … Lillian Allen virtual reading and Q-and-A happens on Feb. 10 at 10 a.m. Gustafson Lecture is Feb. 11 at 5 p.m. Click here to register.