25th Trillium Award

Poets in Profile, with Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang

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Award-winning writer Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang?s most recent book, Status Update (Oolichan Books), is a collection of poems written in response to real Facebook status updates. Author Ian Williams calls Tsiang?s poems ?strangely illicit.? He writes, ?You wonder about your own conduct. Should you be reading / so closely / the lives of others??

In today's Poets in Profile interview, Sarah tells us about her new book, the best and worst things about being a poet and about the last book of poetry that knocked her socks off.

Open Book:

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

Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang:

For me it was meeting a poet. I had dabbled before and created some truly god awful poetry that I (thankfully) didn?t share with anyone else. When I met Sheri Benning and read some of her work, I began to see what good poetry looks like, and the idea of writing to publish seemed like more of a possibility.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


My English teacher in high school read to us from Lorna Crozier?s book The Sex Lives of Vegetables, and I remember feeling pinned to my seat as he read the poem about carrots. The poem was so funny and yet filled with unrequited longing as well. That poem has stayed with me ever since.


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


Ack. This is a hard question and I have a couple of hundred poems that I wish I had written. Let?s say for now, since I?m teaching creative writing next semester, I wish I had written Beth Ann Fennelly's poem "telling the gospel truth" (from her book Tender Hooks).


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


I think Facebook has got to be it — my latest book, Status Update, is entirely based on other people?s Facebook posts. I found the posts to be so weird, engaging, and intimate. I really enjoyed trying to imagine the story behind the posts.


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


Often I let them die quiet deaths and then put them in a shallow grave. I find it?s rare to be able to resurrect a poem that I?ve tried and tried to fix. On the rare occasions that I do manage to bring them back to life, they?re often my favorites. I think there?s nothing that quite matches the feeling of shooting electricity through a poem and raising it from the dead.


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


Definitely Leaving Howe Island by Sadiqa de Meijer. It?s got this kind, elegant grace that is very deceiving. The full impact of the poems sneak up and hit you by the last line. Absolutely stunning.


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


The best thing is the poet?s discount you get at Red Lobster. The worst is having everyone think that you read astrology and believe in homeopathy just because you write in verse. Science y?all!

Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang is the author of the poetry books Status Update (2013) and Gerald Lampert award-winning Sweet Devilry (2011). She is also the author of several children?s books, including A Flock of Shoes and the 2013 Silver Birch nominated Warriors and Wailers.  Sarah?s work been published and translated internationally, as well as named to the OLA Best Bets for Children 2010, Best Books for Kids & Teens 2011 & 2012, and the Toronto Public Library?s First and Best Book List (2012). She is also the editor of the anthology Desperately Seeking Susans, and the forthcoming Tag: Canadian Poets at Play. Her new Young Adult novel, Breathing Fire is forthcoming in Spring 2014 with Orca Books.

For more information about Status Update please visit the Oolichan Books website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore, online from the publisher or at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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