Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Rip Someone Off Today!

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So, my email account was just hacked and I’ve apparently sent a cryptic note about an “interesting link” to everyone I know, including media, publishers, family, co-workers, and just about everyone else under the sun. Which got me to thinking of the matter of “voice” in writing.

Many of my friends, thankfully, realized that the email really didn’t sound like me. Sure, I enjoy shilling viagra as much as the next guy (and I have money in a Nigerian account, if someone would just transfer it for me) but other than that it just didn’t sound like me.

Somehow, I have a voice, even in the way I write emails. The idea of voice is one that remains a little nebulous for me. Just how do you go about establishing a voice? And how do you know it’s the right one? For me, I learned to write by doing poor imitations of other poets. I started out by cobbling together poems I hoped would sound like something Sheri Benning would write. Later, I found out that Sheri Benning was trying to write like Anne Michaels. I’ve yet to meet Anne Michaels and find out who she was imitating, but I’m sure it’s someone.

I imitate recklessly and constantly and process has helped to solidify my own poetic voice. No matter who I’m trying to write like, it somehow still sounds like me. I confessed to a friend the other day that I’ll probably try to write like Jason Heroux until I die because he so completely evades my attempts to imitate him. It’s maddening, but it does mean that I’ve got several surreal poems that no one would ever recognize as a poor attempt at a Heroux original. Instead, I have created surreal poems that can fit within my own voice.

So here’s my challenge to you: rip someone off today. Preferably a Canadian. Here’s my suggested list of people you should blatantly try to mimic. If you want a real challenge, take one poem and re-write for each of these styles. Let me know how it goes!

Sheri Benning (Earth after Rain, Thin Moon Psalm)
Jason Heroux (Memoirs of an Alias, Emergency Hallelujah)
Stuart Ross (too many books to list)
Susan Holbrook (Misled, Good Egg, Bad Seed)

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.

Sarah Tsiang

Sarah Tsiang is the author of A Flock of Shoes (Annick Press, 2010), Sweet Devilry (Oolichan Books, 2011), Dogs Don’t Eat Jam and Other Things Big Kids Know (Annick Press, 2011) and Warriors and Wailers: 100 Ancient Chinese Jobs You Might Have Relished or Reviled (Annick Press, 2012). Her latest picture book, Stone Hatchlings, will be released in fall, 2012.

Go to Sarah Tsiang’s Author Page