By Claire Marchand
Female empowerment, growing up a girl, and exploring identity is what Claire Marchand’s stunning debut collection of feminist poetry is about. “We were born blue” is exploding with original imagery, powerful language, lyricism, and flow, while each poignant poem is a story in itself, weaving together a tale of the modern woman.
Claire Marchand is of both Jamaican and Canadian heritage, born and raised in the city of Toronto, which she left after high school to receive Chef training in Vancouver. She soon realized she had a calling for writing and started contributing to DIY zines and other magazines under different aliases. As a keen reader, she consumed volumes of poetry and philosophy after working hours, and eventually decided to apply for a BA in Gender and Women’s Studies at UBC, which she is attending now. Claire is a single parent to a little girl, Kaleisha.
What was the main inspiration behind your book?
It is hard to say. I think people around me inspire me. Other women in my life have inspired me so much, their struggles, how brave and strong they can be, and by women, I mean all kinds of women regardless of color, background, ability, age, body size, whether they have a vagina or not, sexual orientation, mental health, medical issues. I think women as a broader term are my inspiration — some that I’m lucky to know and some that I’m fortunate to read about. Other than that it’s also feelings and experiences and thoughts, things that I made notes of at some point or another. My mom is also a very wise person that inspires me always.
“We were born blue” is the title of your book and also a poem of yours, can you tell us a little bit about this poem and why was this the one you choose to become the title?
Initially, I think I wanted the title to be something with Peaches and Cherries, named after the last poem in the book, Ballad of Peaches and Cherries, which is a poem that I think is very personal to me because it reflects a lot on the experience of being a black woman. Peaches and Cherries are two unidentified black female torsos, whose murderers were never apprehended. Their bodies have not been identified; they were nicknamed after the tattoos on their breast. So to me, they become a symbol for any black woman within given social structures today. But in the end, I chose We Were Born Blue because it is a very simple poem, but it speaks of a universal experience that embraces anyone who is different. We were born blue as in we were dead and worthless to them- the right ones- from birth (as women, as poc, as lgbtq, as people with disabilities or mental health issues, just any category you can think of) but we had the will to live and we cried ourselves alive to pink. We are very hardy, and we will survive. And if they crush our dreams by trying to force us into roles that are convenient for them, we will not stop smiling. We want to live, and we are valid, and we are here, and they better shut the fuck up.
You are currently getting a BA in Gender and Women’s Studies at UBC. As a black woman poet, have you faced discrimination? Do you think it’s harder for you to break through as a poet?
I don’t want to say yes, but yes. I think women and people of color and so many other categories of humans still do face discrimination that is overlooked by privileged groups of people, who just shrug it off or wanna pretend they don’t see and then use it with no shame to become feminist poster girls on Instagram and make money. I don’t know how difficult it is to break through as a black woman poet, because I am very happy with my publishing house, Oystershell Publishing, and the support they offer and everything. I also am aware of the fact that literature and poetry are changing thanks to Indie Publishers and Self Publishing and I’m very optimistic, there is so many talented women and humans out there, they have been silenced for too long, and now is the time to change this. Everyone has the right to find books that they can relate to, books in which they can see representations of themselves, anything other than heteronormative white males.
You are of Jamaican and Canadian heritage, how have your two backgrounds influenced your work and life?
I grew up with my mother and aunt and grandma. I was born in Canada, same as my mother, and my baby girl now. So this part is pretty Canadian. And Canadian people are more embracing of differences than other countries, perhaps. Feminism is active in Canada, and lots of people understand why it is essential. Same goes for Human Rights. I feel pretty Canadian. But thanks to my grandma, Shanice, I can say I feel very Jamaican too. Not because of my looks only, but because she still brings so much Jamaican culture with her, like stuff about the Lwa, and local religions and practices and it is important for me to be part of these roots.
Is there a poem of yours that is more personal? One that you would like to talk about?
All of them are pretty personal, as they come from thoughts and notes I made over the past few years. Another Mirror is also a poem I would like to talk about. It is about racism or discrimination within a group that is already discriminated against. If you are a trans person, for example, it is very ugly to invalidate other trans people or queer people for “failing to pass” or not caring and not trying to look cis, etc. If you are a gay man, it is very toxic to look down on other less masculine men. In my poem, it is about black women who do not want to be seen as black women. It is everyone’s right, and their experiences are valid, but their aggression towards black women who want to be seen as that is very harmful. You do not stop racism by being silent about your race. You do not dismantle it by internalizing it. There is not a thing wrong with being a black woman, it doesn’t label you but why shouldn’t it be part of your identity? I have made some bad experiences there, and it was something that really hurt me and angered me, so this is where the poem comes from.
Do you remember the first poem you wrote?
I don’t think I do! I wrote for a friend’s DIY zine, I think those should have been the first real ones, some years ago, and one of them is in the book too. But most of the poems in We Were Born Blue have been written in the last 2-3 years.