Sunday Poetry with Sina Queyras
To be drunk with language and possibility: that is what I long for. To be up in the sky, right up in it, my body catapulting through the air. My body, with all the possibilities of being in the world, lit, like a flare. I have been feeling a little guilty about pining for joy in poetry, particularly as I do not find as much joy in poetry as I desire (my own included). And the truth is, it is the joy of language, especially in a crisis, that we need. How does that manifest in poetry? Is it praise? Play? Elegy? How about ‘dirge and anthem,’ as Yo-Yo Ma recently described a song from Angelique Kidjo. There are a lot of feelings.
“How is sentiment maintained,” Gertrude Stein writes in How To Write. It’s not a question, but a statement, and therein lies the joy of Stein. Everything, all the complexity of life happening now, in the present tense. The poetry I love reading and writing faces the day: it scoops up the traces of our social interactions into a huge ball of materiality that I can toss high over my head, twirling it until it is thin and sculptural but also holding together well enough to support all the thinking and feeling I have of a given moment. This is a Steinian tactic passed down through Lyn Hejinian, Harryette Mullen, Susan Holbrook, and Lisa Robertson, among others. The poem as witness, the poem as provocation and a place of refuge, the poem as accumulation and archive, but also the poem as a way through.
This poem, the first in a sequence of poems titled On the Scent, from LemonHound, reflects my love of reading, my love of trying to accurately represent my body in time, my body and time in relation to those writers I love. It also reflects my love of play. Even earnest play: how can we describe the fleeting insights we have? How can we describe the world as it passes us by with such speed? How can we handle all the information and news? How can we carry on with our hearts breaking? But also, how can we be in this world knowing where our choices are taking us? How can we—and yes, we must—find love as we are spiralling into a technological future most of us cannot quite grasp.
I am an introvert. There is a part of me that is already inclined to self-isolate: I have long pined for stretches of time alone for, as Woolf reminds us, “it is in our idleness, in our dreams that the submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.” Obviously, I crave a more benign isolation—not isolation because of a pandemic, economic stress, climate change—but similarly, isolation as a public good, because I understand that it is only with enough self-isolation that I can effectively understand and be present in my time.
Upending language is another way submerged truths might come to the top. Seeing ourselves, our language, anew. That is the dance. That’s the rhythm. That is the light at the end of the tunnel. That is joy. And that is what poetry makes possible for me. –Sina Queyras, Montreal
Sina Queyras is the author of the poetry collections, MxT, Expressway, Lemon Hound, and My Ariel. Her work has been nominated for a Governor General’s Award, and won The Friends of Poetry Award from Poetry Magazine, The AM Klein Award for Poetry, a Lambda, the Pat Lowther Award, a Pushcart Prize and Gold in the National Magazine Award. Her first novel, Autobiography of Childhood was nominated for the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. In 2005 she edited Open Field: 30 Contemporary Canadian Poets, for Persea Books. She is founding editor of Lemon Hound. She has taught creative writing at Rutgers, Haverford and Concordia University in Montreal where she currently resides.