Stay Who You Are
by Hedwig Li
Lisa Dublin is a poet who was born in Saint Lucia, an island country in the Caribbean Sea. When she grew older, she went to Australia to study for an MBA. Recently, she moved with her family to Edmonton, and received her MA at the University of Alberta. Although she has had huge successes in her life, writing and poetry are the habits that she has kept for a long time. Since she started writing, she has earned many prizes in poetry competitions. She also published a chapbook named Sani Baat – A Voice Throwing.
The Caribbean culture and language affected her profoundly. Her themes are: “faith, family, race, the human capacity to overcome, and people in the workplace.” (cited on her website)
As a bilingual speaker, I have always wondered how poets could write poems in a language which is different from their first language. When I got a chance to interview a writer, I chose to invite Lisa.
H L: Hi, Lisa! When I read your personal introduction, I found that you were born and raised outside of Canada. Do the different cultures bring you some difficulties in your writing? For example, expressing your ideas or emotions?
Hi Hedwig, I do express myself differently from a Canadian, but because I came to Canada as an adult who was very involved in celebrating Caribbean culture and language back home, I try to maintain the perspective that my primary audience is back in the Caribbean for now, so that I don’t feel the need just yet to totally change how I write.
I had all those poems and my mother encouraged me to publish, so I finally took the plunge and did just that.
H L: What do you think should be the most important thing for a non-English speaker (or a non-Canadian) to keep in mind when writing an English poem?
I think the most important thing to do is to read a lot of poems in English so you get a sense of how to write, and what is possible. However, I also believe that a non-English speaker should experiment with his or her own language styles and conventions in English. You might be surprised by what you end up with.
After the interview, I found that Lisa’s point of view had a lot of merit. When I first came to Canada, I was afraid of writing. Writing was confusing to me because of the differences between the Chinese and English language and culture. As she said, different cultures and languages have different ways of expressing emotions. That inspired me: why not try to combine my mother language with English, and get the harmony of mixed culture? I think that should be helpful to most people who are confused about how to balance the differences.