Books

Selina Boan's first poetry collection created a connection to her language, culture and community

In Undoing Hours, the Vancouver-based poet reflects on assimilation, colonization and how she creates and takes up space.
Undoing Hours is a poetry collection by Selina Boan. (Kayla McInnis, Nightwood Editions)

CBC Poetry Prize finalist Selina Boan has released her debut poetry collection, Undoing Hours.

Undoing Hours is a personal and powerful account of reconnecting with family and community and reclaiming identity. Boan also explores the impact of colonization.

The Vancouver poet made the 2020 CBC Poetry Prize shortlist for Conversations with Niton, Have you ever fallen in love with a day. Her poem In six, the seasons was also shortlisted for the 2016 CBC Poetry Prize.

The 2021 CBC Poetry Prize is currently open and is accepting submissions until May 31, 2021.

The write to heal

"I wrote this collection for other Indigenous folks who are reconnecting with their culture. I also wrote it thinking about other folks who are learning nêhiyawêwin or their language and I wanted to be transparent about what that looks like. I think there can be a tendency to over-romanticize language learning when in fact it is hard and it is messy sometimes. Sometimes it looks like writing a bunch of words on index cards and practicing those or putting Post-it notes up around your house, labelling different objects and it takes a lot of practice and hard work.

I wrote this collection for other Indigenous folks who are reconnecting with their culture.

"I began the journey of starting to learn my language years ago. Three years ago, I got the opportunity to do a class with an elder. I feel so privileged and lucky to have had that opportunity and have continued since then to spend time and find different ways to connect with elders and community in terms of learning.

"The book addresses a lot of topics like language learning. But I also talk about heartbreak. I talk about reconnecting with family. There are a lot of themes circling inside the book, I wrote the book thinking a lot about what it means to be mixed as well as a white settler. I also wanted to be transparent and open about the inherent violence that is held inside my body and the way that I move through the world because I am white-passing. In my work, I think deeply about the way that I take up space and what spaces I am taking up. Part of the work was thinking about that as well as my responsibilities in both communities that I belong to."

Creating poetry, space and peace

"I started writing the poem as a catharsis. It was a great way for me to process things that were happening in my life. I found ways to move through big emotions that I was having and also brought me a little bit of peace with where I was in my life and where I am in my life right now. 

There was something powerful about being able to put that into poetry and at the end of it feel like I am OK and I'm going to be OK.

"This book marks a time in my life where there was a lot of joy, but there was also a lot of grief. We all have our own stories, our own unique struggles and hardships. There was something powerful about being able to put that into poetry and at the end of it feel like I am OK and I'm going to be OK. In some ways, I've learned throughout it to trust myself and my own poetic instincts. I gained a lot of confidence as a poet and also as a nehiyaw woman." 

Treating imposter syndrome with the CBC Literary Prizes

"It was an encouraging, wonderful thing to happen, especially at that time in my life when I was.struggling. I think there's a need to get something perfect before you submit it somewhere or before you put yourself out there. But, sometimes unexpectedly, the poems that I think are not there yet have done the best. It's important to challenge ourselves to do things that scare us.

It's important to challenge ourselves to do things that scare us.

"I personally have a lot of doubts about my own work, question it all the time and worry about whether it's good enough. But I do suggest thinking about the work that you want to see in the world, then creating that work and putting it out there. It can be so powerful. I guarantee you, there is somebody with a story similar to yours who will come across that poem that you wrote and feel a little less alone in the world or be inspired to write a poem too. Putting your work out there can give and also create space for other people as well."

Selina Boan's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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