Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Stalk a Poet

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Have you ever read a book where you felt like the author was speaking directly to you? That they somehow gazed into your soul and managed to translate it into a heart wrenchingly eloquent book? I feel a ridiculously personal connection to authors I’ve never met but am secretly convinced that I know them by their work.

When I first read Julie Bruck’s book The Woman Downstairs, I spent several days breathlessly describing her work to everyone I knew. I read her poetry out loud to my husband while he made dinner or tried to walk the dog or simply walked into the room. I called fellow poets and read her work to the them just so I could hear it out loud one more time. I immediately went out and got her second collection, The End of Travel, and then went through the whole process all over again. I think my husband got a little sick of being ambushed by poetry everywhere (and having me recite it to him through the closed bathroom door).

It was my husband who suggested that I write to Julie to tell her how in love with her poems I was. At first I thought he was crazy, me write to Julie Bruck? A big-time author who wouldn’t know little-old-barely-published-me from a hole in the wall? Then I thought, why not? It’s a pretty good rule of life to go around telling people you love that you love them. Why not an author?

So I wrote Julie a small letter to let her know that when I read her poetry my heart aches in the same way a muscle does after a good work out. How I admired the way she can weave tenderness in every line without being sentimental. How I loved the music of her lines, they way they tripped off the tongue and managed to make everything seem like song. And how I needed her to write another book RIGHT NOW because I had just finished her last two books and couldn’t wait very long for another.

She wrote back saying that my letter came just at a time in which she was banging her head against the wall from some particularly tricky revisions. She even included a poem from the book she was currently working on (Monkey Ranch). It was incredible. Having the new poem also helped to sustain me until Monkey Ranch came out (and lived up to all my sky-high expectations).

Now that I have my own book of poetry out, I can really see it from the other side. Releasing a book of poetry is a bit like taking five years of your life and tossing it down a well. There it goes into oblivion, and you wait a very long time to hear the tiniest of splashes to know that it has landed. I was pretty well convinced that everyone who had ever read Sweet Devilry shared my genes. Getting nominated for the Gerald Lampert was deeply exciting because it meant that someone, somewhere, has read my book. It means knowing that I wasn’t just speaking to myself all those years of writing my poetry at the kitchen table. Maybe I have a secret connection to someone I’ve never met. And that thrills me to bits.

So here’s what I propose. Stalk a poet today. Pick up a pen and paper and a 52 cent stamp and let them know why you mumble their work out loud when you do your groceries. Why you keep their book by your bedside. Why you turn their lines over and over in your head until you’re sure that their work is as much a part of you as it is them.

And hey, maybe they’ll send you a poem from their next book, something to sustain you until it hits the bookstores.

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