Trajectory & Trace: An Interview with Sina Queyras

Tanis MacDonald: I saw on Facebook that the editor of Poetry, Don Share, posted a photo of you at the podium in Chicago, where you had gone to give the inaugural reading at the 24th annual International Virginia Woolf Conference in June of this year. It was the caption above the photo that caught my eye: “I’m happy to answer questions, interrogation, accusations…” Did you say this and what was the result? How was the Chicago experience? Can you comment on the differences between that event and giving the keynote speech at the Public Poetics conference at Mount Allison in September 2012? 

Sina Queyras: Ha, yes, I did say that. Apparently they don’t usually do Q&As after events at the Poetry Foundation and since I feel fairly committed to speaking directly to any audience, I sort of insisted. I was expecting a little rough love from Woolf scholars but there were no tough or biting questions, no interrogations. I felt very good about the reading, though I admit that I had a hard time preparing for it — I have not been reading or thinking about Woolf for several years so had to dig my way back into the velvet darkness.

Mount Allison, the Public Poetics conference, that was really so much more expansive — I loved it. And I adore Erin Wunker and Bart Vautour who made that happen. There’s an example of a woman taking up some good public space, by the way. Ms. Wunker is impressive.

TM: She sure is! Can you speak about the future of Lemon Hound, and the ways in which it has been — or not been — the kind of critical space you would like, or wanted to create? What have been the best parts and the worst parts about being “hound-in-chief”?

SQ: The best and worst part about being hound-in-chief is the ongoingness. I love always having something to chew on, and I love being able to make things happen if I get the idea to make something happen—if I read something and want to support it, I can do that very easily and quickly, but it’s also been very draining and it has taken me away from my own work. I have brought others in to the fold, but invariably this also takes up a lot of my time, though I have to say that Genevieve Robichaud has been essential and a relief to me.

Have I achieved the kind of critical space I dreamed of? No, not by a long shot. Not at all. I think that in order to achieve that I would need much more support, financially and otherwise, as well as several clones of myself. Also way more down time, ironically. One thing I planned but couldn’t get to is to make a space for collaborative reviewing. My thinking is that if women are to take up more critical public space they need to have successful experiences taking up this space. I wanted to have six women reading the same book and then posting about it anonymously, and then editing that piece into a final essay, all on-line for women to watch unfold. I understand, from my own long trajectory, what it takes to get comfortable being vulnerable in public, and what it takes is persistent exposure over time, a series of successes and failures. Women—and here I am talking about women poets in particular—need to understand that they can survive public failure.

But in order to grow I need to take on the funding issue, and I already do enough administration and bureaucracy at Concordia, and enough coding and proofing and grunt work for the site, so I am stopping myself from spending my very, very little extra time to build funding and infrastructure for Lemon Hound. People send books, I feel compelled now to get them reviewed, or to promote them in some way. It’s intense and it’s only the fourth or fifth thing I have on my plate on a given day, so it’s too much. I posted a review on The M Word recently that wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted it to be and I had to take my hits for that. I don’t have time for that anymore—the hits, I mean, good or bad they take time. So, I am ending Lemon Hound next spring. It will have been ten years since I started it, time to let it go and move on.

This interview is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.

Sina Queyras is the author of the Lambda Award–winning Lemon Hound, Expressway (shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award), and the novel Autobiography of Childhood (shortlisted for the Amazon First Novel Award). She often writes for the Poetry Foundation and runs the online journal Lemon Hound.

Tanis MacDonald is the author of The Daughter’s Way (WLUP, 2012), a study of the female-written elegy in Canada, finalist for the 2013 Gabrielle Roy Prize in Canadian literary criticism, and a contributor to The Memory Effect (WLUP, 2013) and Canadian Literature and Cultural Memory (Oxford UP, 2014). She is also the author of three books of poetry, most recently Rue the Day (Turnstone, 2008), and a once and future Winnipegger. She is associate professor of Canadian literature at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.