Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Profile on Chuqiao Yang, with a few questions

 
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Chuqiao Yang

By rob mclennan

Born in Beijing, China and raised in Saskatoon, Chuqiao (Teresa) Yang is one of three writers, alongside Alessandra Naccarato and Irfan Ali, shortlisted for the 2015 RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. As Quill and Quire reported on the shortlist announcement:

"A part of the RBC Emerging Artists Project, the $5,000 prize, which alternates annually between poetry and short fiction, aims to recognize Canadian writers under 35 not yet published in book form.

A jury comprising poets Fiona Tinwel Lam, Rachel Rose, and Nilofar Shidmehr selected the following shortlist from 136 submissions:

Irfan Ali, Who I Think About When I Think About You
Alessandra Naccarato,
Re-Origin of Species
Chuqiao Yang,
Roads Home

Each finalist will receive $1,000 and mentorship by an established poet, and will have their nominated work made available for download on iBooks. The winner will be announced at an event hosted by writer Tanis Rideout at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto on May 26."

One might be forgiven for not being immediately aware of her name or her writing, especially given the fact that she doesn’t publish that often. Over the past few years her writing has appeared in a variety of Canadian literary journals, including Prism International, Contemporary Verse 2, filling Station, ottawater, Room Magazine and Grain, as well as on several CBC Radio broadcasts, including CBC Saskatchewan. She is also the recipient of two Western Magazine Awards, taking first prize in two categories of the 2011 Western Magazine Awards for her stunning non-fiction piece “Beijing Notes,” which appeared in Grain magazine (Vol. 37.4, Summer 2010). The short travelogue includes:

"I am back from the Expo. I saw a woman club another woman in the lineup for the German pavilion. Her bra was sliding off. Two old men started to hit each other. The sweat on my body did not belong to me. I went home and drank four or five giant bottles of beer and sang a really bad rendition of a Chinese song. I think my relatives hate me."

Yang holds a bachelor of social science degree from the University of Ottawa, and is currently completing a JD in law at the University of Windsor. During the time she lived in Ottawa, her work was included in the seventh issue of the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (January 2011). In a blog report on the issue launch, Ottawa poet Pearl Pirie referenced Yang’s short performance: “Such a lovely cadence and enjoyable turns in her poems, of phrase and image.” In her introduction to Room Magazine 35.1 (“Journey”), guest-editor Clélie Rich wrote: “The poems of both Margaret Malloch Zielinski and Chuqiao Yang carry us to distant places, with Zielinski transporting us to faraway places with evocative names, while Yang’s travels lead us on more internal journeys.” The jury citation for Yang’s Bronwen Wallace Award submission, “Roads Home,” reads:

"Employing lyric intensity and deftly placed slivers of narrative and dialogue, Chuqiao Yang explores the intricacies of the cultural, generational, and temporal connections and chasms that occur between human beings. Demonstrating finesse and dexterity with poetic form, her work distills the essence of both place and character. These are engaging, emotionally resonant poems written by a poet with a compelling and original voice."

The winner of this year’s RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers will be announced on May 26, 2015 at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto.

rob mclennan:

Tell me about “Roads Home.”

Chuqiao Yang:

“Roads Home” is an acknowledgement that I am not self-made. Maybe some people are, but I am not. They are a collection of poems I have written and revised during the time I have been away from home, which I hope speak honestly and frankly about how I am a product of good, amazing, and also awful, experiences. They are little maps that connect me to the people and experiences that helped me, hopefully, become less self-entitled and more aware and appreciative of where I come from and how it’s led me to where and who I am.

There used to be an expectation and overreliance on my part that traveling and moving from place to place would relieve me of the responsibilities linked to having memories and experiences which shaped me as a person. The word home is a shifty thing, a funny phrase people say, like “I can’t wait to be home.” I associate home with familiarity and comfort. I seem to assume that I will be the same person I once was and effectively take for granted the way back home, you know, the “road” itself, specifically, the accumulated thoughts and experiences that changed me as a person in the time between being away from home and returning. I think these poems speak to this idea of how the past influences the present, you know, as the adage goes.

rm:

I know for a period you were working with Saskatchewan poet Sylvia Legris, such as during the time she was editor of Grain Magazine. How was it working with Legris, and how did she help you see your work differently?

CY:

Sylvia Legris is a superhuman. She wakes up at a terribly early time to write and is fixated on details in language like the sound of a word or the precise phrase in a stanza. It is extremely intimidating at first, especially when you are a 16-year-old teenage know-it-all who is slightly more literate than the average teenager, and even more so after someone casually mentions to you that she is a Griffin Poetry Prize recipient...

I met Sylvia Legris after Kelley Jo Burke, the producer and host of CBC Saskatchewan’s SoundXChange, introduced us while I was in high school. I was one of the recipients of the CBC SoundXChange Youth Write for Radio Contest. Kelley Jo Burke, as any loving, ridiculously supportive, parent would do, brought me into her office and ripped into me about how I had to keep writing. Shortly afterwards, she introduced me to Sylvia, who was initially just as terrifying.

Anyways, Sylvia is like a carpenter/surgeon/scientist with words. After listening and working with Sylvia, I realized she does a lot of really incredible stuff really naturally when it comes to writing. Sylvia pares things down so that the language, funnily enough, shines through and speaks for itself. She is dedicated to her work in that sense. But she is also dedicated to mentoring young writers if they are willing to stop being egotistical and annoying, if they are willing to just shut up and listen to the language and do the work to be better as a writer, rather than just think that they are because their peers are terrible writers. Or at least, that was my experience. She has an absolutely determined and unyielding commitment to producing amazing writing, and to ensuring that others, like myself, strive to actualize our potential by finding our own style, or voice, or whatever. It is challenging, but really, really important so I am extremely lucky.

Sylvia helped me appreciate the importance of separating myself from the poem in order to objectively look at it as a reader. Also, she is not one to give out compliments, she is quite stern and no bullshit. So if she tells you she is proud of you, or you wrote something that was half decent, she will often also add, “But don’t let this go to your head, because (insert reason that will be entirely accurate).” So, working with Sylvia is quite a humbling experience, as it should be.

Anyways, I am extremely fortunate because when I was a teenager, I had two incredibly forceful, larger than life mentors: Sylvia Legris and Kelley Jo Burke. They both made me see my writing differently. They made me believe that I could take writing seriously, and not just as a hobby. It was that kind of support, when I was so young, that gave me the confidence to continue writing and pushed me to actually start submitting my work to magazines.

rm:

You’ve published a smattering of both poetry and non-fiction. Is there a particular genre that holds your interest over another? What do you see poetry allowing you to explore that non-fiction might not, and vice versa?

CY:

I have really immediate and strong responses to my surroundings. A song, a book, a person, a place. All of it. I think non-fiction and poetry help me recreate those reactions in the same ways. It's not so much the form as it is the substance. And substantively, the issues and topics I write about in non-fiction and in poetry are the same. But I am also definitely not an expert on this because I am still learning what I am doing, and will probably never stop learning.

rm:

What are you working on currently?

CY:

I am working on a really slow, plotless novel that will maybe just explode and become a bunch of short stories, I have no idea, but it is fun. But I am also, and I think more importantly, working on becoming a better human too, which is difficult.


Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa with his brilliantly talented wife, the poet, editor and bookbinder Christine McNair, and their daughter, Rose. The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014), The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, 2014). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Christine McNair), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds), Touch the Donkey (touchthedonkey.blogspot.com) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He also curates the weekly “Tuesday poem” series at the dusie blog, and the “On Writing” series at the ottawa poetry newsletter. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com. He currently spends his days full-time with toddler Rose, writing entirely at the whims of her nap-schedule.

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