Poetry Muse: Nanci Lee + Hsin

April 17, 2022

Today on Poetry Muse, we are joined by Nanci Lee — author of Hsin (Brick Books). Born to a Syrian father and a Chinese mother, who gave her up for adoption, Nanci explores her origins in a compendium of poem fragments where form embraces the process of its unfolding. In our Q&A with Nanci, she shares when she started writing poetry, and how there’s something distilled in poems that she find satisfying. 

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Who is your muse? 

I would say silence is my muse. I answered this in a Puritan interview with Annick MacAskill. I like playing with space and silence in my poetry. It’s more than a place to land between words. You can’t predict what opens when you foreground silence.


When did you start writing poetry and why did you choose to write poetry over other forms of literature?

I started writing poetry very young. My first poem was published in Grade 3 but a wonderfully supportive teacher. More seriously about 15 years ago. There’s something distilled in poems that I find satisfying. I answered this in a Puritan interview. They are the way I ground, metabolize, fantasize. 


How would you describe your poetry collection?

Koan-like. Sensual. Spacious.


What advice would you give to aspiring poets?

Read widely. Poems you love. Poems you hate. And everything in between. I have found that things I resist tell me a lot about my own voice and craft.


Are there any poets or poetry collections that you admire?

Billy Ray Belcourt. I find the raw coiled energy and honesty of his work powerful. Anna Quon for narrative and character poems. The grandmother poems so full of wisdom and cheek and quirk.


*This interview has been edited and condensed.


A Poem from Hsin


Meridian 1: Palindromes and other Contingencies


As must I        


a way to listen


a low wet riot

took the peach tree                 

fists loosened    

cicada nymphs

growing harder

growing darker


stubborn bud

alone in her silk

a stupor flesh


long before we spill

wind unsettles the tale



of under-lily red

thousands of lotus seeds




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Picture of the Author

Nanci Lee (she/her) is a Syrian-Chinese poet and educator based in Mi’kmaki (Nova Scotia), the unceded, unsurrendered territory of the Mi’kmaq. When not writing or playing outdoors, Nanci works for Tatamagouche Centre, a spiritual and justice-oriented retreat centre. Nanci’s work has appeared in Contemporary Verse 2, The Malahat Review, Matrix Magazine, The Antigonish Review, The Literary Review of Canada, The Fiddlehead, Rattle Magazine, and This Magazine and various anthologies. Hsin is her first trade-length book. Chapbooks Preparation (Free Fall) [short-listed for the bp nichol award] and Hsin (Thee Hellbox Press) are contained in this book.


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During the month of April, you can buy Hsin and any one of our other featured Poetry Muse books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada with promo code ALUPOETRYMUSE. Or find them at your local independent bookstore! 

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