Sarah Tolmie

Sarah Tolmie's picture
Photo credit: 
Scott Straker
b. 1971
Biography: 

Sarah Tolmie has loved early English since she was a teenager because of its weirdness. She did degrees in medieval studies at Toronto and Cambridge. She always wrote poetry but began to write alternate history novels — Ursula Le Guin was a mentor — in her 30s after her kids were born. Now she does both, and teaches literature at University of Waterloo. McGill-Queen’s University Press has published two of her poetry collections: Trio (a long book of sonnets that tells a love story) in 2015 and The Art of Dying in 2018. The latter was nominated for the Griffin Prize.

Micro-interview: 
Did you read poetry when you were in high school? Is there a particular poem that you loved when you were a teenager?: 

Yes. For some weird reason, I was obsessed with the long poem by Skelton called “Philip Sparowe,” which I could barely read (and which I found in an old university textbook that belonged to my mother). But I read a lot of the modernists, as well. [T. S.] Eliot especially, and later [Ezra] Pound. And John Donne. Now I am a fan of Carol Ann Duffy and Anne Carson. Also of Pam Mordecai, who now lives in Kitchener-Waterloo.

When did you first start writing poetry? And then when did you start thinking of yourself as a poet?: 

I won a contest when I was 12, another at 15, and was shortlisted in the CBC writing contest when I was 17 (and never since). I wrote all through high school and my undergraduate years, stopped dead in graduate school and early career years, and only began again in my 30s — to my surprise and great relief. I thought it had died. Sometimes during the productive periods I thought of myself as a poet, sometimes not. I am pretty sure now, but it took a long time.

What do you think a poet’s “job” is?: 

To tell the truth in an artful way.

If you have a poem in our anthology what inspired you to write it?: 

I don’t.

If you had to choose one poem to memorize from our anthology, which one would it be?: 

I think it would be [Elizabeth Barrett] Browning's “Grief,” as it is such a powerful, no-bullshit statement of the case. 

Publications: 
Title: 
The Art of Dying
Publisher: 
McGill-Queen's University Press
Date: 
2018
Publication type: 
Book
Title: 
Trio
Publisher: 
McGill-Queen's University Press
Date: 
2015
Publication type: 
Book
Poem title(s): 
On Seeing an Ad for Vaginal Rejuvenation
Title: 
Year's Best Canadian Poetry in English
Publisher: 
Tightrope Books
Editors: 
Hoa Nguyen, Anita Lahey
Date: 
2018
Publication type: 
Anthology