Dear Current Occupant
From Vancouver-based writer Chelene Knight, Dear Current Occupant is a creative non-fiction memoir about home and belonging set in the 80s and 90s of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Using a variety of forms, Knight reflects on her childhood through a series of letters addressed to all of the current occupants now living in the twenty different houses she moved in and out of with her mother and brother. From blurry non-chronological memories of trying to fit in with her own family as the only mixed East Indian/Black child, to crystal clear recollections of parental drug use, Knight draws a vivid portrait of memory that still longs for a place and a home. Peering through windows and doors into intimate, remembered spaces now occupied by strangers, Knight writes to them in order to deconstruct her own past. From the rubble of memory she then builds a real place in order to bring herself back home.
Braided Skin is the vibrant and edgy telling of experiences of mixed ethnicity, urban childhood, poverty and youthful dreams through various voices. In her debut book Knight writes a confident rhythm of poetry, prose and erasure by using the recurring trope and image of braiding--a different metaphor than "mixing," the word we default to when speaking the language of race. In the title poem Braided Skin, the use of this terminology shifts, to entwining and crossing, holding together in a way that always displays the promise or threat of unravelling. This is just as all tellings of family, history and relationships must be -- "Skin that carries stories of missing middles.” When speaking to the issue of Racial identity Knight raises the question, then drops it, and the image becomes other objects, then abstraction, and memory -- then it finally becomes something "she breathes in" actively.
A Poet's Inspiration
Junie (forthcoming with Book*hug in 2020)
Thanks to funding from the BC Council for the Arts
"I had no one to help me, but then T.S. Eliot helped me. So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn't be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language—and that is what poetry is, That is what literature offers—a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn't a hiding place. It is a finding place."
—Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?