In the hopes of encouraging a broader exchange among U.S. and Canadian poets, H. L. Hix has designed a series of one-question “mini-interviews” for his Canadian peers. A selection of these interviews will be incorporated into his forthcoming book Ley Lines (Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2015). The subject of this interview is Erin Knight’s Chaser.
H. L. Hix: The epigraph from The Plague (“Ah,” Rieux said, “a man can’t cure and know at the same time. So let’s cure as quickly as we can. That’s the more urgent job.”) seems like a clue about how to read the book, but I’m curious about what kind of clue. Rieux’s position is that one can’t cure and know, so better just to cure. Chaser is full of poems in which the relation between curing and knowing matters. Is it written in affirmation of Rieux’s position or as an “argument” against Rieux’s position, a way of saying that we can’t separate curing and knowing?
Erin Knight: A “cure-chaser” was a consumptive who travelled to warmer climates in pursuit of health. I wrote these poems while thinking about how we live our lives chasing both cure and diagnosis, in a kind of frenzy for knowledge about how the body will fail. So I would say that the book is acting more as an argument against Rieux’s opinion, because I don’t believe that “knowing” and “curing” can be separated. Our desire to understand is too great.
What we know changes how we cure, of course, but it also changes how we understand the “job” of the invalid. For instance, before the tubercule bacillus was discovered, a physician would make a diagnosis of consumption based on the invalid’s entire personal history, habits and interests. Now, all that’s needed is a skin test or a swab—it’s the presence of the bacillus that matters, not the identity of the patient.
There’s something about our current condition that compels us to want to be diagnosed, to become a patient. (Or perhaps “want” is the wrong word: “resigned” might be more accurate, an acceptance that we are in a state of pre-diagnosis.) People will subject themselves to everything from food sensitivity testing to full-body CT scans to genome-mapping . . . all in the hopes that the thing that ails us might be identified.
I do find Rieux’s position compelling, though. Sometimes it seems that we can’t cure and know at the same time, as he says. The workings of the body are still so mysterious. The body goes on healing itself, performing its small miracles, even as it may be about to fail in other ways.
Erin Knight is the author of The Sweet Fuels, which was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and longlisted for the ReLit Award in 2008. She lives in St. Catharines, Ontario.