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Celebrating difference

Trudeau fellow uses poetic lens to challenge the status quo

By Janet Harron

Andreae Callanan is aiming to bring outsiders inside by illuminating what she calls, “celebratory bursts of difference.”

As an activist, feminist and Memorial’s latest Trudeau Scholar, Ms. Callanan primarily studies poets outside the white European canon. And although shortlists for major literary prizes and bestseller lists are more culturally diverse than ever before, it doesn’t necessarily mean current market trends pertain to institutions like the academy.

“The more we talk about and think about poetry, the more we see the world through a poetry lens,” explained the PhD student in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“What poetry does at its most basic level is work through the level of the figurative through metaphor and analogy and rhyme. Poets and readers of poetry are constantly seeking things that balance sameness and difference. The difference between a boring metaphor and an exciting one is a new level of difference.”

She also says that, in the world we live in, there’s a lot of talk about recognizing similarities between culture and people.

“Of course, that’s essential but we need to celebrate difference as well … poetry is a site where that naturally happens.”

Doctoral focus

This discussion of difference leads to the Trudeau Foundation where human rights and dignity is a major focus.

“Human rights are denied when one group of people recognizes another group of people as more different from them than similar and this difference makes them less worthy of value,” Ms. Callanan said. “If we can attune ourselves to difference in a celebratory way, we can help shield ourselves from that sort of thinking.”

Her doctoral research is anchored around three contemporary female poets: Dionne Brand (Trinidadian/Canadian), Marilyn Dumont (Indigenous/Metis) and Mary Dalton (outport Newfoundlander). Their distinctly different cultural backgrounds are viewed through a lens of colonialism, identity, gender and the poetic life.

“My scholarship is driven by love of the things that I do and the writing that I study.” — Andreae Callanan

The three writers are all poets whose work she loves and admires: “I just wanted to hang out with them all day, in book form.”

Particularly in regards to Mary Dalton, Ms. Callanan believes this is an opportunity for the poet to be studied closely.

“I think her work is so important to me as a woman writer and a Newfoundland writer and what she’s doing with language, both in the work that is anchored in Newfoundland and also in terms of the huge array of international influences that she brings in,” Ms. Callanan said. “She’s doing something fascinating.”

Literature lover

Having returned to academic work 14 years and four children after completing her undergraduate degree at McGill, Ms. Callanan is clearly revelling in her freedom to “sit with who I want to sit with.”

Andreae Callanan is a 2019 Trudeau Fellow and PhD candidate focusing on poets outside the white European canon.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Literary research can be different from other academic pursuits, with less pressure for students to do “cutting edge” work. To a lover of literature like Ms. Callanan that, in itself, is liberating

“My scholarship is driven by love of the things that I do and the writing that I study,” she said. “I don’t get to decide what contribution it will make – that will be decided by others.”

Recently returned from her first official meeting as a Trudeau Scholar, Ms Callanan says she came away inspired by her colleagues, in particular by how Indigenous scholars are blending traditional ways of knowledge and doing scholarship.

Having been engaged politically for many years, Ms. Callanan is determined that her doctoral research matches her personal activism.

“What it made me ask is, how can I make my doctoral research more publicly engaged and innovative?”

Considering that Ms. Callanan led the Take Back the Night March through Yellowknife on her eldest daughter’s due date and emceed a feminist poetry reading immediately afterwards, the poetic status quo should be on notice that change is on the horizon.

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