Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Gillian Sze

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Ten Questions with Gillian Sze

Gillian Sze's collection of poetry, Fish Bones, was published this spring by DC Books as part of their Punchy Writers Series imprint. You can catch her reading from Fish Bones this summer at the Pivot reading series, at McNally Robinson at Don Mills and at the Art Bar Poetry Series.

OBT:

Tell us about your book, Fish Bones.

GS:

Fish Bones is a collection of poetry written in the ekphrastic tradition – a fancier way of saying that I spent a lot of time looking at art. Conventionally, poets writing in this tradition observe still-lifes, portraits and landscapes, but I gave the genre a twist and also used photography, sculptures and abstract paintings as springboards for my imagination. I refrained from description, but attempted to produce poems that could stand on their own rather than adjuncts. I was inspired by Jeanette Winterson’s essay, “Art Objects,” where she describes the ekphrastic process as a dialogue between the poet, painting and artist. Fish Bones is ultimately a collection of conversations.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote Fish Bones?

GS:

I suppose the best answer would be anybody and everybody. Somebody who likes poetry and visual art. Somebody who likes them together in one serving.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

GS:

It wasn’t a poem but a short story I had written when I was eighteen, titled Candyland. It placed second in a writing contest in Winnipeg – which was unbelievably exciting for a newbie – and then was published in a local magazine, The Collective Consciousness.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

GS:

My ideal writing environment is a room with a lock on the door. I like quiet and windows and good light and a pile of good books nearby.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

GS:

I guess there are a few… definitely one was leaving Winnipeg and moving to Montreal where I, admittedly, yearned for the flat, open-sky prairies. The second was visiting China last fall and feeling more Canadian than I thought possible. The most recent would be when I left Montreal and moved here to Toronto and found that I couldn’t shake off the word “metro.” I still can’t. Surroundings certainly play a part when I write.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

GS:

Right off the bat, I would say Consolation by Michael Redhill. I read that shortly after arriving here and it was remarkably appropriate. Two others would be The Diviners by Margaret Laurence and Apostrophes: woman at a piano by E. D. Blodgett.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

GS:

I started The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and am finishing Crush by Richard Siken. I need to start reading a novel though. I like to keep philosophy, poetry and fiction going on at the same time. It takes a toll on the brain but I think I like that too much to stop.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

GS:

The best advice I ever received came from David Bergen, who taught me creative writing during my first year at University of Winnipeg. One day he asked the class, “When do you write?” and I responded, “Whenever I feel inspired,” which I can see now is the sort of answer someone just starting out would give. At the beginning, writing is pure pleasure, like bike riding or going to the playground – you go when you feel like it. It was when he suggested that we treat writing as a discipline that I began to see it seriously as a vocation.

The other advice that I received was from my supervisor, Mary di Michele. I was thrilled over an acceptance letter from Prairie Fire and she said, “Ok, don’t wait for the issue to come out. You should always be thinking about the next poem.” I think that’s important: always the next project, always the next poem.

OBT:

What is your next project?

GS:

I’m actually finishing up one right now. It’s a collection of poetry and prose-poems based on a passage in The Aeneid and also spins off e.e. cumming’s nonlectures. Wow, now that I’ve answered that, my project sounds like a really random hybrid. Anyway, I have small ideas for a next one that deals with the “returning-to-my-roots” voyage in Asia but it’s still in embryonic stages and will require some extensive research on my part.

OBT:

What advice do you have for a writer who is trying to get published?

GS:

Read. A lot. Submit your work and then forget about it. I’d also tell them what David once said that helped me: “Expect rejection, but assume that they’re wrong.”



Gillian Sze was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her poetry has appeared in such venues as CV2, Prairie Fire, pax Americana (U.S.), Crannóg (Ireland) and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal (Hong Kong). She is also the author of two chapbooks, This is the Colour I Love You Best (2007) and A Tender Invention (2008). She has an MA in Creative Writing and resides in Toronto. Fish Bones is her first full collection of poetry. Her website is gilliansze.com.

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