Sarah Tolmie

Sarah Tolmie's picture
Photo credit: 
Scott Straker
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 three of her poetry collections: Trio (a long book of sonnets that tells a love story) in 2015, The Art of Dying in 2018 (nominated for the Griffin Prize) and Check in October, 2020.

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 and her poems in creole. 

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
Title: 
Check
Publisher: 
McGill-Queen’s University Press
Editors: 
Carolyn Smart
Date: 
2020
Publication type: 
Book