Mini-interview: Gillian Sze

Gillian Sze is a writer and teacher. She is the author of multiple poetry collections, including Peeling Rambutan (Gaspereau Press, 2014), Redrafting Winter (Buschek Books, 2015), and Panicle (ECW Press, 2017), which were finalists for the QWF’s A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry. She has also published creative nonfiction, articles, interviews, and book reviews and 3 children’s books.

What draws me to the writer: I had the good fortune to share a reading and conversation with her many years ago. Her unique radiant joy from then remains intact. She has an optimism and careful poetic step. I have since particularly enjoyed her Redrafting Winter which I’ve re-read a couple times. The collaborative dialogue shines. It hooked me that the point of entry is Li Bai and Wang Wei, Tang poets who I also admire. A book of poetry taking the slow path of reflective time is appealing.

Book: Quiet Night Think: Poems & Essays  (a misFit book, ECW, 2022) by Gillian Sze.

You can hear some of the book Quiet Night Think on youtube or at CBC.

About the Book:

During the remarkable period of early parenthood, Sze’s new maternal role urges her to contemplate her own origins, both familial and artistic. Comprised of six personal essays, poems, and a concluding long poem, Quiet Night Think takes its title from a direct translation of an eighth-century Chinese poem by Li Bai, the subject of the opening essay. Sze’s memory of reading Li Bai’s poem as a child marks the beginning of an unshakable encounter with poetry. What follows is an intimate anatomization of her particular entanglement with languages and cultures.

Sze invites readers to meditate with her on questions of emergence and transformation: What are you trying to be? Where does a word break off? What calls to us throughout the night?

Sample:

Prayer 

Trimmed baby hairs tossed in the backyard now curl in a nest. 
Moss limes the bark. 
Beneath the sudden rays, ice laces the heads of hedges. 
The glaucous leaves of the carnations are fringed with melting snow. 
When did they find the time to survive?


It’s almost May and we’re still lamenting  the languid spell of winter. 
When panicked, grant me 
the unshakable calm of flowers.

p.8

Questions:

PP: Your opening essays starts with all the paradoxes of translation, what is literally said, what is implied, what is embedded. It strikes me that poetry in the translation from life to words has some of the same challenges. In your work you mention letting work set until it has clarity and heft. Do you find that way in time alone or do you have a set of readers who help you see what is distilled enough?

GS: I think one of the best things to do with a draft is to forget about it and return to it afterwards. That little spell of amnesia allows me to, for a moment, pretend that the work isn’t even mine to begin with, and I can examine, edit, and revise it more effectively. Only when I feel like I have moved the work to a less vulnerable space do I seek out my trusted first readers.

PP: In its weaving in of life and what you read, art you saw, it seems similar to Borealis by Aisha Sabatini Sloan (Coffee House Press, 2021) In your essays you write of family memories. Although you don’t express scathing shocking reports, did you run it past family?  Did you navigate “whose story”? 

GS: I found myself at the nexus of so many stories this last while when writing this book. It was through the stories of my family that I could make out the leaps and overlaps of my own. I showed the manuscript to family for accuracy, and I’m fortunate that it was met with their encouragement and blessings. I was conscious when writing to be as honest, empathetic, and generous as possible.

PP: What I admire about your work is your diligent belief in beauty, in that there is a rock-solid real. In Prayer you say, “When panicked grant me/the unshakeable calm of flowers”. Your poems have a striking lack of cynicism and irony: “how common the unexpected. How elusive both luck and mishap” yet are not prosiac. You manage frankness with grace. What keeps you grounded, connected and hopeful? 

GS: I’m grateful for this magnanimous reading of my work, Pearl! This belief or connection is perhaps just a stubborn insistence on finding states of wonderment. Or, at the very least, a state of boredom from which wonder can emerge.

Mini-interview: Jim Kacian

Jim Kacian is a poet, anthologist, editor, and the founder and Chairperson of The Haiku Foundation. He is the owner of Red Moon Press, and author of 20+ books, mainly of haiku. 

What draws me to the writer: I’ve been aware of his publishing company for years, pre-eminent as it is for haiku, and have read his essays, seen his conerence talks, but hadn’t looked for his own haiku until I saw it.

Book: waar ik ophoud / where i leave off: monoku and haibun of Jim Kacian (Red Moon Press, 2021)

About the Book: waar ik ophoud / where i leave off is the seminal first exploration of monoku as a viable resource in Western-language haiku, by the poet who coined the term. This updated reprint from 2010 includes both Dutch and English texts, and reformats the contents to create a more pleasant reading experience. It also includes several examples of one-bun, also the poet’s invention, which recasts English-language haibun in an enterprising way. This version is a faithful reproduction of the original Dutch volume from the important Dutch imprint ’t schrijverke, operated by Max Verhart in ’s Hertogenbosch until his death in 2018.

Sample:

gunshot the length of the lake

een geweerschot even lang als het meer


snowlight things seem so oh i don’t know

sneeuwlicht de dingen schijnen zo ach geen idee

Questions:

PP: You’ve been publishing haibun for decades more than I’ve been aware of them existing. I like the notion of a tight haibun. C.C. Coulton said, “The writer does the most, who gives his readers the most knowledge, and takes from him the least time.” Is that what propels you towards brevity?

JK: That’s an interesting quote, and will appeal to many writers of haibun (and other short forms). But as I see it, brevity isn’t really the goal, rather more of a tool. The goal is to find exactly the right form for the poem at hand, and there are times when brevity is the right tool, and times when it is not. 

Short forms generally make excess obvious, but excess nevertheless may be precisely what a poem calls for. Even the tightest novels have some fat, and it’s often the fat we could least do without. That said, keeping haibun streamlined makes sense in most instances. If a haibun’s resonance is oblique (as the best tend) then what a writer would desire would be a sense of inevitability, and at the same time unexpectedness. I think you can arrive at these things simultaneously only if there are no distracting elements. The more a piece is larded up, the more our attention can be captured by something that is beside the point. Of course the skill of the author in directing that attention is the determining factor in whether or not such a piece succeeds.


I have written lots of pieces that seek to be as brief as possible, and I have written lots that invite greater immersion over time. If I am sufficiently interesting as a writer, readers will allot me the time it takes to have my say, be it brief or otherwise. The truer I remain to the poem, the likelier I am to be worthy of this gift. 

 
PP: How did it come that Max Verhart translated your work to Dutch? Had you travelled through the Netherlands or had family ties there? Do you speak some Dutch?

JK: I have traveled, spoken, read and mentored in the Netherlands, been a guest in Max’s home and shared the stage with him on several occasions. Our relationship goes back to a conference we both attended in London in 2000, and he has participated in some of my projects (such as being an editor for the Red Moon Anthology from 2002-2012) and I in some of his. [For those of you who don’t know, Max died in 2018.] It was a seemingly natural thing for him to ask to translate my short treatise on monoku (where i leave off) into Dutch, and to publish it (as where i leave off / waar ik ophoud)  through his publishing house ’t schrijverke. The Netherlands has a very active haiku culture and society, and their journal, Vuursteen, is the longest continuously published haiku journal in Europe. Max was active for several decades in the Dutch haiku world, but he never did get me to learn any Dutch in the process beyond hello, goodbye, and a few choice epithets.

PP: How big is the role of waiting and silence in making your monoku? Do you set aside a time, or a space, to reflect?

JK: I’d like to re-emphasize that I do not exclusively write monoku, but am focused in finding the best form for every poem that compels me to write it. But my process for all these various forms is the same: I most often write in the middle of night. I keep pencil and paper bedside and write down whatever comes to me. I try not to judge or edit what I am given, but simply accept it with gratitude. I try in the morning to read my handwriting, and often fail. Whatever I can make out I try to organize into something coherent, still without judgment. These fragments I put in my working file and don’t look at for at least a year, usually longer. When I go back after that time whatever needs doing — keeping as is, editing or trashing — often seems very apparent to me. And I will play any poem that I plan to keep over and over in my head, a kind of lapidary process until it is worn smooth.

PP: I can relate. I recall waking one morning. In the night I saw myself making a poem in clear handwriting. By morning light I had scrawled sideways across a page, off the book and across the desk, entirely illegibly.

JK: I also subscribe to the ancient and ridiculous superstition of offering fealty to the Muse. This acts as a triggering device for me, a useful fiction that reminds me that I am not the fount of poetry, merely its amanuensis. That’s my process. I’m likely more patient about this than most poets are willing to be, and I don’t recommend it for everyone, but it has served me well for a long time. 

PP: Doing all you do with making anthologies and collections, you are a community building, a hub for like-minds to find like-minds. What encouragement has Red Moon Press given back to you?

Haiku has been the conduit through which I’ve been able to give to the world what I have in me to give. And what I have to give does seem to have served to bring many people together. These are wonderful things, and I am grateful to be in a position to play my part in making them happen. I recognize that I am an extremely fortunate person, living in circumstances that are not available to everyone, and to almost no one outside of our own time and place. I do not take these things for granted. I hope my efforts are commensurate with the great opportunities I’ve been afforded. 


But I have received more, too, as a result of my work. Most especially, the sense of community engendered by my contact with poets, readers, editors, scholars, commentators and volunteers via Red Moon Press and The Haiku Foundation has permitted me, an introvert and a loner, to have a rich social connection with the world, one that has helped to keep me informed about how my neighbor lives. I expect I would be a far different person without this gift of sociality. There are other things as well, but I think this the most amazing payback I could ever receive.

FW: 2022 Book Awards

in case you missed it

The League of Canadian Poets is proud to present the 2022 Book Awards Shortlists and Longlists, for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, and the Raymond Souster Award.

Winners of the 2022 Book Awards will be announced on Thursday May 5! 
Check out the 2022 Shortlists
Check out the 2022 Longlists

Celebrating the 2022 Book Awards

Wednesday, May 4, 8pm EST

Join the League of Canadian Poets in celebrating the sixteen poets shortlisted for our annual book awards!

Click here to register for this event!

On Wednesday, May 4, the evening before we announce our three book award winners on May 5, join us for an online rapid-fire reading celebrating some of the most exciting books and poets of 2021. Featuring:

  • Sheri Benning (Field Requiem)
  • Selina Boan (Undoing Hours)
  • David Bradford (Dream of No One but Myself)
  • Síle Englert (The Lost Time Accidents)
  • Louise Bernice Halfe – Sky Dancer (awâsis — kinky and dishevelled)
  • Leah Horlick (Moldovan Hotel)
  • DA Lockhart (Bearmen Descend Upon Gimli)
  • Lillian Neckakov (Il Virus)
  • Tom Prime (Mouthfuls of Space)
  • Rebecca Salazar (sulphurtongue)
  • Bardia Sinaee (Intruder)
  • Adam Sol (Broken Dawn Blessings)
  • John Wall Barger (Resurrection Fail)

So much new poetry continuously. Of the 13, I read 4 and they were all good.