Author Tags: Poetry
Another graduate of The Writer’s Studio at SFU, Vancouver-born Chelene Knight, while a member of the editorial board of Room, released her first poetry collection, Braided Skin (Mother Tongue 2015), largely emanating from experiences arising from her mixed ethnicity, poverty, urban upbringing and youthful dreams. The title poem ‘Braided Skin’ uses the analogy of braiding—the concept of entwining—to reflect racial tensions and ambiguities, always with the promise or threat of unravelling. Responding to the strands that comprise her life and her poetry, Wayde Compton, the Afro-Canadian director of SFU Writers Studio, notes Knight’s poetry does “not let tribulation define the journey, though it’s there,” but instead there is there is a consistence quality of dance and laughter through the book. Knight has been published in Sassafras Literary Magazine, Room, emerge 2013 and Raven Chronicles
Braided Skin (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2015) $18.95 978-1-896949-50-5
[BCBW 2015] "Afro-Canadian"
Braided Skin (Mother Tongue $18.95
Chelene Knight has been writing in secret since she was a child. “As a young mixed-race woman, I’ve always struggled with identity,” she says. “I am still trying to find my voice.”
Having graduated from The Writer’s Studio at SFU, the Vancouver-born poet has now released her first book, Braided Skin (Mother Tongue $18.95), largely emanating from experiences arising from her mixed ethnicity, poverty, urban upbringing and youthful dreams.
“Growing up with only my mother’s side of the family [African American] and never being exposed to any of the cultural intricacies of my father’s East Indian-Ugandan heritage, left a gaping hole in my chest I’ve never been able to fill.
“As a young parent, how do I hand over answers to probing questions of ethnicity, background, and history, when I myself didn’t even have them? This is the question that the poems in Braided Skin finally answer.”
Knight’s mother is African American. Her father and his family were victims of the Asian expulsion from Uganda that took place in the 1970s when President Idi Amin led a campaign of “de-Indianization,” in essence a brutal ethnic cleansing of Uganda’s Indian minority.
“So many Canadian mixed-race women struggle with finding a sense of belonging within themselves, as well as within their own families and even communities,” she says. “I have spent a good chunk of my life feeling pressured to convince strangers of my ethnicity due to not physically fitting into any mold made by society’s preconceived ideal.
“I think when you come from two different cultures, and are denied one half, you spend the majority of your time questioning everything in your life, from parenting to education, careers to social groups, and even dating and marriage.”
Knight’s title poem ‘Braided Skin’ uses the analogy of braiding—the concept of entwining—to reflect racial tensions and ambiguities, always with the promise or threat of unravelling.
“In some pieces in the book, I use a character’s voice as narrator, and even though a particular poem may not be about me, I’m always sure to remove my mask and question if this is where I’m supposed to be.”
Wayde Compton, director of The Writer’s Studio, notes Knight’s poetry does “not let tribulation define the journey, though it’s there.” Instead there is a consistent quality of dance and laughter through the book.
A quote from Jeanette Winterson is prominent on Knight’s website: “A tough life needs a tough language—and that is what poetry is. That’s what literature offers—a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.”
A member of the editorial board of Room, Knight has been published in Sassafras Literary Magazine, Room, emerge 2013 and Raven Chronicles. She says, “The poems in this collection do address race directly and sometimes indirectly, but it’s more than that. It’s about realizing that I can have a variety of voices, and they are all indeed genuinely mine.
“I speak through music, erasure, story and rant. I don’t have to pick a side. I wrote these poems for the women struggling with a sense of belonging, be it race-related or not. Everyone wants a place to feel content.
“... It’s about the unmapped journey through city and then later, through self. Where one ends up is only the beginning.”
… Sing sweet.
These brown skin confessions.
like the war-torn-country skin,
— ‘In the Green Room,’ from Braided Skin
These days Chelene Knight stands strong in her chosen position as a hardworking single parent. Her work in progress, Dear Current Occupant, is a collection of prose poems and letters written in the voice of a young woman speaking to the horrors, sadness and pleasures that took place in the over 20 homes she lived in as a child.