We asked the poets shortlisted for the 2021 Book Awards some questions about their writing lives, inspirations and -of course – poetry. Read on for their thoughts and stay tuned as we reveal more questions and responses from our esteemed 2021 Book Awards Poets up until the winner’s announcement on May 6, 2021.
If your poetry was a room in a home, which one would it be and why?
“If poetry was one room in my home, not any home but my home, it would be the hallway that stretches the length of my apartment, connecting every room. You can see from end to end of the space when you stand in it, as long as the bedroom door at the end of the hallway is open. But it’s not a room, per se. I don’t know if it would count when calculating the whole and half numbers that are used to describe Montréal apartments. It’s easy to see it as nothing special. It’s narrow and dark and undecorated. But you can’t get anywhere without going through it. I don’t want to use the word “liminal” but that’s what it is. The in-between. I’m never going “to the hallway,” I’m always on my way somewhere else, and that’s where poetry happens, and it’s how I got here.”
Kyla Jamieson’s Body Count (Nightwood Editions, 2020) is shortlisted for the 2021 Pat Lowther Memorial Award.
Sadiqa de Meijer
“The kitchen… I love the fairy tale concept of kitchen work – the place where we work with water, fire, knives, spoons, salt, and life’s raw materials are transformed.”
Sadiqa de Meijer’s The Outer Wards (Véhicule Press/Signal Poetry, 2020) is shortlisted for the 2021 Raymond Souster Award.
“At first, I was going to say that it would be in an unusual room like a vestibule or a library or secret room behind a clever wall, but actually those are rooms in wealthy houses. My poetry is in a poor house. It is a house with no interior walls at all, except, ocassionally, a makeshift curtain contrived for certain privacies. Otherwise, we are all exposed to everything. Sometimes we find the human proximity stifling for its inescapable human odours, its intolerable closeness. Other times we find it comforting for its familiarity and deep sense of belonging. It is both a jumble of rooms and a single room that collapses all into one. Others might struggle to identify it as a “real” room, but we who live in it know better. That is my poetry.”
Bertrand Bickersteth’s The Response of Weeds (NeWest Press, 2020) is shortlisted for the 2021 Gerald Lampert Award.
“The attic—quiet, private, filled with memories and rubbish.”
Jessie Jones’ The Fool (Goose Lane Editions, 2020) is shortlisted for the 2021 Raymond Souster Award.
“The kitchen, I hope, so that it might be life-giving.”
Noor Naga’s Washes, Prays (McClelland & Stewart, 2020) is shortlisted for the 2021 Pat Lowther Memorial Award.
“The porch, carefully watching everything come in and out, with the occasional outdoor/forest breeze swoop in, rattling all the contents from time to time.”
shalan joudry’s Waking Ground (Gaspereau Press, 2020) is shortlisted for the 2021 Pat Lowther Memorial Award.
“My poems would be vines crawling up the side of a house, imperceptibly at first, but ultimately you wouldn’t be able to separate the vines from the structure of the house itself.”
Ian Williams’ Word Problems (Coach House Books, 2020) is shortlisted for the 2021 Raymond Souster Award.
Klara du Plessis
It would be outside the window. Continuing with the metaphor of this question, I think my poetry is less about the container of its form and more about how it loosens that form and expands, even disappears. I tend to use the word perforate a lot, but it’s one of those that just lodges and makes sense to me—if the poem can perforate its own walls, it is more capacious, and readers can enter with their thoughts, and the poem itself can get up and leave. I grew up in the Free State, a province in central South Africa that is very flat with expanses of ochre veld, and a sense of proximity between earth and sky. This landscape is my ideal room. In the earlier question about inhabiting a poetic line, I thought about quoting the following excerpt from Hell Light Flesh: “blue signals the sky … including the sky in a wall / or any surface which isn’t the sky, / including the sky in the sky.” Or also a few pages later: “(Clearly / reaching hands directly / into the blue pigment of the sky.)” These images emanate from my love of South African landscapes, which I experience as unenclosed.
Klara du Plessis’ Hell Light Flesh (Palimpsest Press, 2020) is shortlisted for the 2021 Raymond Souster Award.
Cicely Belle Blain
The rooftop patio. Daring, chilly, fresh, expansive.
Cicely Belle Blain’s Burning Sugar (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2020) is shortlisted for the 2021 Pat Lowther Memorial Award.
It wouldn’t be a room in the house–it would be the greenhouse or the garden.
Michael Prior’s Burning Province (McClelland & Stewart, 2020) is shortlisted for the 2021 Raymond Souster Award.
My bedroom because while other rooms involve relationship, the bedroom involves the most intimate relationship; with oneself.
Tyler Pennock’s Bones (Brick Books, 2020) is shortlisted for the 2021 Gerald Lampert Award.
John Elizabeth Stintzi
The attic, maybe—though I’ve never had an attic. It would be someplace cozy or cool and a little hard to find your way into.
John Elizabeth Stintzi’s – Junebat (House of Anansi Press, 2020) is shortlisted for the 2021 Raymond Souster Award.