Born in Manitoba, Sina Queyras grew up on the road in western Canada. She’s written one novel, a book of essays, six books of poetry and edited an anthology of Canadian poetry. She has won the Pat Lowther Award, the Lambda Literary Award, and the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry. In 2005, Queyras founded Lemon Hound, an influential literary journal. She lives in Montreal and works at Concordia University.
Did you read poetry when you were in high school? Is there a particular poem that you loved when you were a teenager that you remember well?
I fell in love with several poems in junior high. Dickinson’s “A Narrow Fellow in the Grass,” Atwood’s “You Fit Into Me,” and “Death of a Young Son by Drowning,” and a visual poem from the fantastic (and fantastical) Kenneth Patchen called “Only Cherries” are poems I still have in my body.
When did you first start writing poetry? And then when did you start thinking of yourself as a poet?
I started writing poetry before I knew how to read or write. I did this by asking my siblings (I had five older siblings) what a particular word in the newspaper was, and then I cut it out, and another, and another, and then I made poems. I wrote intense — or so they seemed to me — and obvious poems about autumn, a fox in the chicken coup, a bird in the hand etc. My mother loved doggerel and wrote copious amounts of it, which — though I loved to hear her read them — sort of killed any instinct to rhyme. I am still reluctant to call myself a poet and do so tentatively: I feel there is a wide gulf between being a person who writes poems and being a poet.
What do you think a poet’s “job” is?
As you might have gleaned from the previous answer, I have a fairly rigid definition of a poet. From my perspective a poet must not only be a master-craftsperson, but a superhuman, and by that I mean an emotionally mature, energetically charged individual willing to say what others can’t or won’t, and willing not only to laugh or weep, but rage.
What inspired you to write “Five Postcards From Jericho”?
I was transcribing film that my sister shot while walking with me on Jericho Beach and in other spots of Vancouver. I wanted to write an elegy for her, and I wanted to somehow complete her unfinished project — she passed away quite young. This was the result.
If you had to choose one poem to memorize from our anthology, which one would it be?
I can’t resist Hopkins — who certainly inspired “Five Postcards.” So “Pied Beauty” or “The Windhover.” They are such classics. That sprung rhythm is so fun to read, and I would love the challenge of having to make them contemporary.