Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Beyond Diagnosis, with Erin Knight

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Erin Knight

Erin Knight is the author of The Sweet Fuels (Goose Lane), a collection shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and longlisted for the ReLit Award in 2008. Her newest collection, Chaser (Anansi) was released this month.

Erin will be reading at the Anansi Poetry Bash in Toronto on April 25, 2023 with poets Dennis Lee, A.F. Moritz and Erin Moure.

By Ashliegh Gehl

When SARS touched down in Toronto almost a decade ago, white surgical masks and latex gloves became items on the grocery list. Six years later, H1N1 prompted a hand sanitizer shortage due to excessive hoarding. Both cases globetrotted at the expense of international travel.

Long before H1N1 was declared a pandemic, poet Erin Knight was doing some traveling of her own. That?s when she began to formulate the idea behind her new collection of poetry, Chaser.

?I was thinking about how much smaller the world is in terms of illness, because there?s so much travel,? she said. ?People are going all over the place, so if there is a certain outbreak it would take very little time for it to actually arrive everywhere.?

Chaser is the poetic equivalent of Edward Burtynsky?s Oil. Much like Burtynsky, she starts at the seed of her idea and then branches to the human condition, the perpetual need for diagnosis.

?We?re all sort of in this state of pre-diagnosis, where we?re just kind of waiting for however it is that our body is going to fail us.?

She even recalls watching a talk show where people had to make a decision between $1,000 cash or being given a CT scan.

?Even if they have no symptoms they could be potentially diagnosed with something,? she said. ?People would choose the full body CT scan, as if they?re hoping to find something.?

Unlike The Sweet Fuels, her first collection of poetry, Chaser is more like one long poem inspired by a handful of texts. Her interest in other people?s mail propelled her to read the letters of John Keats and Katherine Mansfield, taking note that most writers from a certain time period suffered from tuberculosis simply because it was just something everyone seemed to have. But it was in Keats?s letters that she started to tap into the value of his words.

?I was thinking some of these lines, they?re just so good and they?re just buried in a letter that he dashed off to a buddy or something and I felt like I wanted those lines to see the light of day again.?

At the beginning of the recession in 2008, Erin started to move away from Keats and on to business reports.

?I started to get really interested in the fact that the language we use to talk about economy and economic systems is often quite similar to the language we use to describe illness.?

The texts making up the breadth of Chaser were never sought after, but were works Erin stumbled upon, lines that jumped from the page to be explored. Whereas The Sweet Fuels is travel based. She was living in Mexico when she wrote it, engulfed in the country?s history and the ideas of language acquisition.

After The Sweet Fuels was released in 2007, Erin fell into what she describes as a ?fallow period between projects.? She was working on a translation of Mexican poetry and it took her some time to realize that Chaser was brewing beneath the surface.

With two collections of poetry to her credit, Erin plans on taking some time to work on a bit of fiction.

?I?m always reading a novel. I love poetry and I love it as a way of thinking about the world, but I?m kind of a fiction junkie.?

Ashliegh Gehl is a freelance writer and multimedia journalist.

She has written for the Women's Post, Montreal Gazette, Quill & Quire,, Northumberland Today and The Intelligencer newspapers.

Between countless cups of oolong tea, Ashliegh has been busy working on two books. Visit her website for more information.

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