Poetry Primer #15: Sheila Stewart & Soraya Peerbaye

April 28, 2015

Sheila Stewart has had her poetry widely published in literary journals like The Malahat Review, Grain, Descant, and The New Quarterly, as well as in her own collections, A Hat to Stop a Train (Wolsak & Wynn, 2003) and The Shape of a Throat (Signature Editions, 2012). Sheila's currently a lecturer and writing instructor at the University of Toronto. A position that gives Sheila a lot of experience with new voices. Soraya Peerbaye was the emerging voice Sheila selected to help us celebrate this year's National Poetry Month.

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Sheila Stewart has had her poetry widely published in literary journals like The Malahat Review, Grain, Descant, and The New Quarterly, as well as in her own collections, A Hat to Stop a Train (Wolsak & Wynn, 2003) and The Shape of a Throat (Signature Editions, 2012). Sheila's currently a lecturer and writing instructor at the University of Toronto. A position that gives Sheila a lot of experience with new voices.

Soraya Peerbaye was the emerging voice Sheila selected to help us celebrate this year's National Poetry Month. Having read Soraya's debut collection Poems for the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (Goose Lane Editions, 2014), it was an easy choice. In addition to this collection, Soraya's work has also been published in journals such as Prairie Fire and The New Quarterly, as well as the collection, Red Silk: An Anthology of South Asian Canadian Women Poets (Mansfield Press, 2011). Her next collection, Tell, is forthcoming this fall from Pedlar Press, including the poem "Craigflower Bridge," which we share with you below.

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Sheila Stewart on why she selected Soraya Peerbaye:

I love the way Soraya Peerbaye weaves English, French, and Creole through Poems for the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names. She creates moments of family, travel, and memory with a touch which is both gentle and sharp. Beneath her startling images are questions about the complexity of story and language.

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Soraya Peerbaye on why she writes poetry & who her influences are:

I write to sound out uncertainty. What is called to mind, in relation to a certain matter; what answers; but mostly, what doesn’t answer. I write to sound out where I founder. In almost every form of art, as a reader, a watcher or a listener, I feel most awake in that moment when I’m slightly bewildered; there is so much possibility then. I’ve been trying to learn how not to obstruct that.

Jane Hirshfield has beautifully described poetry as emerging from “the mind of indirection,” and the condition that makes such a strategy necessary: “There is a shyness at the core of existence, a hesitance to be seen.”

I can’t say that poetry comes instinctively to me; I feel stubbornly bookish, rational, literal. Poetry is invaluable as a way of confronting the fact that that only gets me so far. Poetry doesn’t tether you to argument, to meaning; or at least, it provides different kinds of knots. It has reach, give. I think of kelp: the root of it may be far below, and there are ladders to climb to reach some filtered light of significance. Every now and then it untethers you altogether.

I am somewhat terrified of naming influences - it seems to suggest that reading others’ works has brought to bear something of their extraordinary craft on my own, and I don’t know that I can make such a claim. There are many writers whose works I read and reread when I am actively working on a project, even while recognizing that I could never do what they do. Conversely there are writers whose work I read as a way of saying to myself, see, you could do this too. What inspires me is authenticity, bravery, even in simplicity. I often read writers and think, god, I could never say it so plainly.

Writing my most recent collection, my touchstones were Carolyn Forché, Mahmoud Darwish, and many of the writers in Forché’s collection Against Forgetting; Marlene NourbeSe Phillip; Betsy Warland; Lorraine Niedecker; Sonnet L’Abbé, Sachiko Murakami, Bushra Rehman, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Marilyn Dumont, and Maureen Scott Harris. Influence is as much ethic as aesthetic. Performance also influences me, though it isn’t my practice; theatre, live music and especially dance, especially improvisation and time-based performances. I am taken by the ways a moment can be inhabited. At the end of the day, influence is any experience that makes me more responsive, reactive, awake.

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Only one more Poetry Primer left to go, if you've missed any you can catch up here or get the whole collection, including poems from our established poets, with our anthology, ibid.


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