The Shortlist: Q&A with Sadiqa de Meijer
There are five names on the shortlist for this year’s CBC Poetry Prize. But before we announce the winner, we want to let you know a little about the poets whose creations rose to the top.
Sadiqa de Meijer's poem, “Great Aunt Unmarried," is shortlisted for the 2011-2012 CBC Poetry Prize. We talk to this Ontario-based poet about family portraits, Dutch dialects, and the lures of the great indoors.
1. Tell us about yourself.
I live in Kingston, Ontario, a small city at the origin of the St Lawrence. My main work is parenting, then writing, and periodically I teach and practise art therapy. I like vegetable gardens and pine forests, but mostly I’m drawn to the great indoors; chairs and cardigans, books and notebooks, mugs of tea.
I’m not okay with the way the world is. How to be just and generous in it, within the small sway one has, is a question I’d like to be able to answer.
2. What do you usually write?
Poetry. The poems I submitted to Canada Writes are an excerpt from my first manuscript, which is close to completion. But I also work on short fiction and personal essays.
3. Have you submitted to the competition before?
4. What themes did you choose to explore in your poetry entry?
I don’t think I choose the themes. I try to write about what preoccupies me, and that means certain themes (and subjects) recur: distance, displacement, domesticity, intimacy, war. But the choices in writing a poem, for myself anyway, have to do with words and phrases, and what each of them conjures. It’s after the first draft that I start to see what I’m getting at.
5. What inspired you to write this poem?
The poems are part of a longer series, also called "Great Aunt Unmarried," and were inspired by a figure from my own life. For this project, I wanted the writing to be fairly true to her; a sort of portrait. As I worked, the attempt to depict things as they were became a useful constraint, like a formal one but in reverse, pushing me to make the poems less consistent structurally. But I didn’t keep to every particular—for instance, she wasn’t my great aunt.
6. How long did you work on the poem? How many drafts did you write?
I don’t remember how many drafts. Most of the poems were written in the past year and a half, with a couple of lines held over from much earlier pieces.
7. If your poems could be translated into any language, which would you choose and why?
For this series, West Frisian—spoken in the Dutch province of Friesland—because the scenes in the central poem take place there.
8. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I started writing creatively early on, age six or seven maybe—I remember quatrains about a talking pig with a sore toe—and I knew that I’d keep doing it, though thankfully I found other subjects.
9. What other poets inspire you?
I love the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks and Elizabeth Bishop, and the Dutch poet Ida Gerhardt. And there are individual poems that have been formative to me; Amiri Baraka’s "Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note" is one. Or even single phrases that have imprinted themselves: “Already the iron door of the north / Clangs open” “I will not be held like a drunkard / under the cold tap of facts” “There is a parrot imitating spring”—from Stanley Kunitz, Leonard Cohen and Rita Dove respectively. Lines like that make me want to write.
Then, not least, I’m inspired by my writer friends, as we read and critique each other’s poems.
10. How does it feel to be shortlisted for this prize?
Great—it’s unexpected and validating.
Sadiqa de Meijer's poetry has appeared in various literary journals, as well as in the Best of Canadian Poetry in English series and in the anthology Villanelles. Her Canada Writes entry is excerpted from her first poetry manuscript, a project supported by the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts.
Photo credit: Wendy Luella Perkins