Try Poetry: This Side of Light + Carolyn Marie Souaid

Today’s Try Poetry feature is a perfect springtime poem about a visiting sparrow, from the latest collection This Side of Light (Signature Editions) by writer, editor, and painter Carolyn Marie Souaid. Carolyn tells us about the arrival of the sparrow “Arthur” as a sign from a deceased loved one, writing poetry as therapy, and more in our interview.


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An Interview with Poet Carolyn Marie Souaid

All Lit Up: When was the moment that you decided you wanted to write poetry?

Carolyn Marie Souaid: At 12, I wrote scripts and directed plays that my friends and I performed on driveways, in backyards, and in country barns during the summer months. Concurrently (and in secret), I wrote poems as a way of dealing with my angst about being unpopular at school. Back then, I wrote it as “therapy.” But I don’t really count that.

I would say the real defining moment occurred while I was doing my student-teaching practicum in a remote Inuit community in Northern Quebec. It was 1983. A young local invited me to go hunting on the tundra. We went by Skidoo with a long wooden sled attached to the back, heaped with supplies, a gun, and red plastic jug of gasoline. Clad in the warmest outerwear I had, I watched him scan the land for signs and clues. I had never seen someone hunt for his supper before. While we were out there – miles away from the village – he killed three white birds, ptarmigan, for his family. At sundown, he brought me home and I ran to get my journal to write about the intensity of being a speck in the infinite landscape, but all I could get down on the page was “Wow! Wow! Wow!” in big bold letters. The rest was unsayable. That day convinced me that only poetry would be able to express the kind of “divinity” I felt when I was out in the vastness of nature. Many years later, in 2002, I published a poem about this hunting trip and other northern experiences in a collection called Snow Formations.

ALU: If you had to pitch your featured poem to someone who had never read poetry before, how would you do so?

CMS: “Arthur” is at once fun and serious. It came to me fairly easily. Once I got the idea, I just followed the thread. Here’s what happened: I sat at the computer with a cup of tea and a desire to write— but no inspiration. Just then, the muse arrived! A sparrow landed on my window sill. I convinced myself it was a sign— that the sparrow was my late Uncle Arthur come to visit. Its markings looked like “the matchstick hues of the drained soil in late November.” So I wrote that. Its movements reminded me of a “nervous man in a tweed coat” crossing the street with a newspaper. I wrote that too. And then I took it from there. Arthur is both a tribute to my uncle and a poem about art (and inspiration).

ALU: What’s a poetry collection or individual poem that you’d recommend to anyone looking to get into poetry?

CMS: Any book by the American poet Billy Collins, who was the US poet laureate from 2001 to 2003. His interest in the everyday and his quirky, conversational, often humorous style make his poems accessible to a first-time reader. Questions about Angels (1991) is a good collection to start with.


From Carolyn Marie Souaid’s collection This Side of Light.

Whenever I sit to write
the same old sparrow lands
on the outer ledge of my window,
beyond the desk
where my keyboard lies,
waiting for inspiration.
It is Arthur, always Arthur
with his distinct markings,
the matchstick hues
of the drained soil in late November.
He’s like a nervous man in a tweed coat,
scurrying across the street
with a newspaper under his arm,
and he may not be a sparrow at all
but he is definitely Arthur.
I would never mistake him for another.
He arrives gently on the wing of dawn
and awakens me to my higher self,
the little flame that, upon death,
never extinguishes
but vanishes momentarily in a sudden
wind, to appear once more
in the strangest of places
when nature returns in the arms
of a cloud. I believe
that long after my ashes have cooled,
that dear bird will find me again
wherever I am, in the web of silence,
the way he finds me now,
with my sleeves rolled up
and some tea in a pot, steeping.

“Arthur” is excerpted from This Side of Light by Carolyn Marie Souaid, copyright © 2022 by Carolyn Marie Souaid. Reprinted with the permission of Signature Editions.

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Carolyn Marie Souaid is a Montreal-based writer, editor and painter. She is the author of nine poetry collections and the novel, Yasmeen Haddad Loves Joanasi Maqaittik, winner of the Silver Medal for Best Regional Fiction at the NYC Independent Publisher Book Awards. She has performed at literary festivals and events in Canada, Europe and the U.S., her work garnering a top prize at the Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Berlin and appearing on shortlists for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award and the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry. Throughout her career, she has worked extensively to build bridges between linguistic and cultural communities in Quebec, including a decades-long involvement with the Inuit. Souaid’s work has appeared in print and online journals, nationally and internationally, and has been featured on CBC-Radio. Her literary papers (1967-2022) are housed at Rare Books and Special Collections of the McLennan Library of McGill University.

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Thanks to Carolyn Marie Souaid for answering our questionnaire and sharing “Arthur” with us for Try Poetry (Why Not?).

Remember, if you purchase a copy of This Side of Light or any of the other featured Try Poetry collections, you’ll receive a free digital sampler containing all of our featured poems. (Purchase from All Lit Up or from your local independent bookseller; send proof of payment to if you purchase from your local!)