Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Poets in Profile: Gillian Sze

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Open Book is celebrating National Poetry Month with daily profiles of today's "unacknowledged legislators of the world." Find out what inspires, confounds and delights the poets behind this spring's new releases by following our series.

Gillian Sze follows her acclaimed 2009 debut collection, Fish Bones, with The Anatomy of Clay (ECW Press). Divided into two sections — the externally observant "Quotidianus" and the inward-looking "Extimacy" — the poems in The Anatomy of Clay mould and manipulate the Promethean myth of human creation, looking at the self and the individual as both mundane and miraculous. Poet Jennifer Still finds Sze's poetry to be brimming with "contagious lyrical energy."

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Gillian Sze:

When I was younger, my mother told me not to climb the swing set but I did anyway and eventually fell off one day and had to get stitches. In the spring I would shake the plum tree and watch the blossoms fall. Once I saw a cloud shaped like a man, mid-stride, running eastward. The huge elm tree in my front yard had to be cut down and I missed it terribly. My eighth grade teacher was skeptical of me but my eleventh grade teacher wasn't. I fell in love with how clumsy the word "enthusiasm" appears, yet still looks like what it means.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


I remember reading Shel Silverstein when I was seven, particularly "Melinda Mae" and the whole whale-eating operation. My first "grown up" poem would be Cummings' "Chansons Innocentes." I still think "puddle-wonderful" in spring.


What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?


“The Botticellian Trees” by William Carlos Williams.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


My first appointment with a gynecologist.


What do you do with a poem that just isn't working?


I can be stubborn and my poems can be, too. The struggle is usually fruitless. I've learned to let it go, forget about it, and return to it in a few months. See it again after a period of estrangement.


What was the last book of poetry you read that really knocked your socks off?


I've been spending time with a collection of Adrienne Rich's poems (Poems Selected and New, 1950-1974) this month and savouring them.


What is the best thing about being a poet…and what is the worst?


The best is when I construct a word-machine successfully and examine it later (as "poet at rest," according to Plath) and think: I did that? The worst is when I don't and all questions surrounding my existence rise to the surface, and refuse to be comfortably repressed.

Gillian Sze was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her debut collection, Fish Bones (DC Books, 2009), was shortlisted for the Quebec Writers’ Federation McAuslan First Book Prize, and her work has appeared in a number of national and international journals. She has a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Concordia University and resides in Montreal, Quebec. Find out more at her website.

For more information about The Anatomy of Clay please visit the ECW Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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