Canisia Lubrin, Christina Sharpe, Nat Raha, Nydia A. Swaby & Saidiya Hartman

Poetry is Not a Luxury: The Poetics of Abolition

A panel exploring the poetics of abolition. “Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change.”

A panel discussion with Saidiya Hartman, Canisia Lubrin, Nat Raha and Christina Sharpe, chaired by Nydia A. Swaby. Subtitles to accompany the video will be coming soon. A Google doc of collectively collated links and references made during the public event is available here. 


“Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change.” Poetry crystallises our visions for the future. It is the arena in which demands come to life. When we proclaim that poetry is not luxury, in the spirit of the revolutionary poet Audre Lorde, we make clear that its incantatory power should not be underestimated. Abolitionist desire and imagination are rooted in the poetic, while abolition is an act of sym-poesis, of creating in concert and in collectivity, moving towards living together without carceral separation. 


With readings from poets Canisia Lubrin and Nat Raha and reflections from critical thinkers and scholars Saidiya Hartman and Christina Sharpe, this panel chaired by academic, curator and writer Nydia A. Swaby explores the poetics of abolition, “for it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are, until the poem, nameless and formless-about to be birthed, but already felt.”


Saidiya Hartman is a Columbia University professor of English and Comparative Literature. She is the author of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (Serpent's Tail), Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-making in Nineteenth Century America (Oxford University Press,1997) and Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007). In 2019 Hartman was awarded a prestigious MacArthur 'Genius' grant.


Canisia Lubrin is a writer, editor, and teacher. Her work is published widely and has been frequently anthologised, including translations into Italian and Spanish. Lubrin’s debut poetry collection Voodoo Hypothesis, was named a CBC Best Poetry Book, longlisted for the Gerald Lambert Award, the Pat Lowther Award, and a finalist for the Raymond Souster Award. She was a finalist for the Toronto Book Award for her fiction contribution to The Unpublished City: Vol 1 and 2019 Writer in Residence at Queen’s University. Lubrin holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph.


Dr. Nat Raha is a poet, trans / queer activist and scholar, living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her third collection of poetry is of sirens, body & faultlines (Boiler House Press, 2018), and her creative and critical writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the South Atlantic Quarterly, LIES: A Journal of Materialist Feminism, and the Verso blog. Nat holds a PhD from the University of Sussex. She co-edits Radical Transfeminism zine.


Christina Sharpe is Professor of Humanities at York University. She is the author of Monstrous Intimacies: Making Post-Slavery Subjects (2010) and In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (2016). She is working on two monographs: Ordinary Notes and Black. Still. Life and the critical introduction to New and Collected Poems of Dionne Brand.


Nydia A. Swaby is a Black feminist researcher, writer, and curator. Her practice builds on theories of racial, gendered, diasporic, and queer formation, black feminism, black studies, and her previous experience working at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Nydia is a member of Feminist Review’s Editorial Collective and recently co-edited an issue on Archives (July 2020). Her writing has been published in Africana Heritage, Symbolism, and Feminist Review and she is writing a memoir that interweaves personal narrative and family history with research in archives in Jamaica, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Nydia is Curator of Learning at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. She has a PhD in Gender Studies from SOAS University of London.