In this follow-up to her award-winning debut collection, How She Read, Chantal Gibson delivers an unflinching critique of the representation of Blackness, past and present, in with/holding.
with/holding is a collection of genre-blurring poems that examines the representation and reproduction of Blackness across communication media and popular culture. Together, text and image call up a nightmarish and seemingly insatiable buzzing-clicking-scrolling-sharing appetite for a daily diet of Black suffering.
In this follow-up to her award-winning debut collection How She Read (2019), Gibson gives sombre voice to Nostalgia, “the signifying ache in search of its signified.” A meditation on the rise of falling monuments, in the wake of Add to Cart consumer culture, this collection draws on the language of brand marketing, news and social media, DIY culture and graphic design—”the tyranny of copy and paste”—to confront the role of the new colonial machinery in the relentless consumption and commodification of Black bodies.
Drawing on icons past and present, this collection imagines Black voices moving freely across time and space: the hold of a 19th century slave ship diagram printed on a white rubber yoga mat; a whispering set of 1950s grinning salt n pepper shakers on a Pinterest dinner table; ringside with wrestler Sweet Daddy Siki at 1970s Maple Leaf Gardens on YouTube; and the dissenting centre of the 2020 Black Square. In the journey from longing to belonging, with/holding disrupts the fetishizing algorithms that continue to reproduce Black pain, promote anti-Black racism, and reinforce white supremacy. As an act of protest, this collection imagines how to survive the unspeakable present. As an act of reclamation it seeks to build a meaningful connection to the past through transcending acts of resistance.
Chantal Gibson’s poetry carries the full weight of language burdened by the heavy load of anti-Black racism, and the stubborn persistence of a virile and imbedded colonialism shaped by white privilege, that will not be eradicated by superficial apologies, fleeting acknowledgements and the selfish act of simply shopping for token gestures, those “indulgences” offered online that too easily turn trauma into woke merch. Progressing from her award winning previous book How She Read (2020), with/holding is grounded in Gibson’s deep engagement with language in its numerous cross-pollinating manifestations (as spoken and gestured, in print and on screen, shaped/designed and made tactile/physical, decorative and easy-wearable), from the ephemeral whispers lodged in deep memory, to the hard rigid lettering cast on heritage plaques (that often do little more than confirm and reveal what remains absent in the “official” redacted versions of memory, becoming permanent reminders to those with more profound knowledge of what lies hidden and unacknowledged between the lines).
Gibson’s writing is an invocation to undertake the necessary “hard” work (addressed to both author and reader); it picks at and reveals the thick scar that Mahmoud Darwish described as “a memory that never ceases working” (In the Presence of Absence, 2006), formed and worried where “the past is not past,” as Christine Sharpe revealed, “the past reappears, always, to rupture the present” (In the Wake, 2016).
While Gibson’s scope is global, her grounding is Canada, this nation of feigned diversity that hides its rigid demarcations of difference and maintains a hierarchy of citizenship carried forward from Victoria’s vast empire. Gibson’s writing reveals the complexities of love and pain as she truly and empathetically works, and it feels impossible not to be marked by these thoughts that for some will linger into longing, while for others they will persistently fester and trouble all they accepted as authentic. As Gibson intones in “Anchors,” “how quickly we convinced ourselves we were watching the truth.”
—Andrew Thomas Hunter, writer/artist/curator