Poetry Muse: Sarah De Leeuw + Lot

April 4, 2022

In Sarah De Leeuw's recently released poetry collection  Lot (Caitlin Press), she returns to the landscape of her early girlhood to consider the racial complexities of colonial violence in those spaces. In our Q&A discussion, Sarah shares when she was writing this collection she was "driven to surface, to make visible, and to unsettle and write against white-settler-colonial supremacist imaginings of Haida Gwaii". Read on for her advice to aspiring poets and to read a poem from her collection. 

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Who is your muse?

To be totally honest, I haven’t ever really written to or with muses. 

I’ve always felt like muses were (are) efforts to externalize the writing process. To place control over the act of writing in some external realm, outside the writer’s sphere. 

Muses feel ever so slightly too close (for my comfort) to elements of organized religion, ever so slightly to close (for my comfort) to a fated orientation to the world. 

Instead of muses, I believe in omnipresent and material sociocultural forces and systems of power (and disempowerment and inequity). I believe those forces and systems are produced at the behest of humans like ourselves. I believe humans (not slippery shimmering not-quite-nameable-things like muses) have gotten ourselves to where we are today – and where we are today needs changing, especially with regard to planetary destruction, pressing and pervasive violences against each other, and ongoing discriminations anchored in racism, sexism, heteronormativity, ableism, capitalism, and colonialism (to name but a few). 

Since humans have gotten us to where we are, we can also get ourselves out of this mess. But only if we take direct responsibly (and consequent action) and don’t turn to imagined external entities (like muses). My writing is thus deeply motivated by a sense of accountability to the world, in the here and now, and with a concern with social in/justices.

 

What inspired you when you started writing your poetry collection? And what is your creative process when you begin writing? 

In Lot I am driven to surface, to make visible, and to unsettle and write against white-settler-colonial supremacist imaginings of Haida Gwaii. 

Growing up on Haida Gwaii, completing a 100km there in 2016, and spending much of my professional life committed to anti-colonial practices, are the primary drivers behind the book. I’m not sure I have a “creative” process. I have a writing process, and it’s simple. Write. Write some more. Then write more and more and edit and edit and write more. Read a lot about the topic you’re writing about. Write when and wherever I can. Write at all costs. Write.

 

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

I’ve been writing poetry for as long as can remember. My 9-year-old journals are full of poetry (quite terrible poetry, but grand gestures nonetheless). I don’t exclusively write poetry – I’m a literary essayist too, and of course I write academic and research-based work. I choose poetry for Lot, a contemplation of my growing up on Haida Gwaii and all that Haida Gwaii is imagined to be, because I was interested in the form (couplets) and texture (lyric) of the writing materially reflecting (on the page) ways that words and text can structure and produce space. That’s, after all, the underlying theme of the book: places are created in great part by the worded imaginings of them. Poetry seems the best mode to reflect that discursive work done by letters and words.

 

How would you describe your poetry collection? 

A collection of love. An inspiration. 

  1. Focused-NOT-on-classics-by-white-men
  2. Contemporary.
  3. Eclectic. 

Also, it weighs a lot…

 

What advice would you give to aspiring poets? 

Write. Write. Read poetry. Write. Spend time with poets, dedicate time to yourself to write poetry. Love poetry. Write. Write. Don’t be afraid. Write some more. Love the world, love poetry. Which is also a world.

 

Are there any poets or poetry collections that you admire? 

I am currently in love with Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz.

 

Does music inspire you when you start writing poetry?

While I’m unable to listen to music that has lyrics when I’m writing, I often listen to Tom Waits and, afterwards, I find my brain full of poetry and poetic lines.

 

A poem from Lot

 

AS IN 

 

Poem from Lot - Title: As In

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Picture of the Author

Author of seven literary books (creative non-fiction and poetry) and co-editor of five academic texts (including Determinants of Indigenous Peoples’ Health in Canada: Beyond the Social and Geopoetics in Practice), Dr. Sarah de Leeuw is an interdisciplinary scholar whose work focuses broadly on colonial violence, marginalized peoples, and overlooked geographies. Currently the President of the Canadian Association for Health Humanities (CAHH) and a member of the National Collaborating Centre for Indigenous Health (NCCIH) for more than 15 years, in 2017 de Leeuw was appointed to the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists. Author of more than 130 peer-reviewed publications, from book chapters to journal articles and scholarly entries, de Leeuw was nominated in 2017 for a Governor General’s Literary Prize in non-fiction. De Leeuw holds a Western Magazine Gold Award, two CBC Literary Prizes for creative non-fiction, and the Dorthey Livesay BC Book Prize for poetry. She also holds a PhD from Queen’s University in historical-cultural geography and is a Professor and Canada Research Chair (Humanities and Health Inequities) with the Northern Medical Program in Prince George, a distributed site of UBC’s Faculty of Medicine. She grew up on Haida Gwaii and now divides her time between between Lheidli T’enneh/Dakelh Territory (Prince George) and Syilx Territory (Okanagan Centre), in so called British Columbia.

 

 

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

Keep up with us all month on  TwitterInstagram, and  Facebook with the hashtag #ALUPoetryMuse.


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