Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Which ‘I’ this ‘I.

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Which ‘I’ this ‘I.

After my second book, Post-Apothecary, came out, I was given the chance to read at some of our writers’ festivals. One event in Ontario had three poets and a host who introduced us and facilitated the tooth-pulls of the Q&A. Standard process. The night before, several colleagues and friends were gathering in the Hospitality Suite, and our host, a well-respected writer, was canvassing the poets in the room. She pulled me aside, as if wanting to whisper in my ear, then she said something like, “I would never ask you this on stage, but why were you institutionalized? What were you in for?” On the surface, there seemed to be no judgement or harshness in her questions. But still, it took me aback.

Post-Apothecary isn’t an uplifting poetry book. In its world, a woman has been harmed and, as a result, becomes psychologically and physically unwell. Or rather, her world is unwell. The narrative of the book is sourced in social and medical histories of places of isolation—the tuberculosis sanatorium and the mental asylum. I saw elements running parallel between the two institutions with regards to causes of illness, diagnoses, and treatments (which may not be healing at all). The protagonist-patient is feverish and disturbed. She confronts different traumas, and transforms in way, as she experiences the medical establishment’s experimental cures.

When I explained that the ‘I’ and the ‘she’ of the book were not directly based on my personal experience, that I had never been hospitalized, the panel’s host became quite frustrated and, I think, dismayed and deceived. The host had invested in a world and a character that she took to be grounded in my intimate reality. I wondered at the time if I should feel somewhat fraudulent. I didn’t. I felt like I’d had a success. Somehow, I’d let the ‘I’ of the poems come to be a believable ‘she’ with her own life.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Sandra Ridley

Sandra Ridley’s first full-length collection of poetry, Fallout, won the 2010 Saskatchewan Book Award for publishing, the Alfred G. Bailey prize, and was a finalist for the Ottawa Book Award. Her second book, Post-Apothecary, was short-listed for the 2012 ReLit and Archibald Lampman Awards. Also in 2012, Ridley won the international festival Of Authors’ Battle of the Bards and was featured in The University of Toronto’s Influency Salon. Twice a finalist for the Robert Kroetsch Award for innovative poetry, Ridley is the author of two chapbooks: Rest Cure, and Lift, for which she was co-recipient of the bpNichol Chapbook Award. Her latest book is The Counting House (BookThug 2013). She lives in Ottawa.

You can contact Sandra throughout the month of September with questions and comments at writer@openbooktoronto.com.

Go to Sandra Ridley’s Author Page