An Alphabet of Poets – Q is for Queyras

excerpts  From “Euphoria” (in five parts)


Dear Time, you swallowed us whole, swallowed us lovely,
      sharp as bones
Crimping sadly under foot my benign, my flotsam and crabs thin
      as leaves
Your smoothing, your sinking in. Mornings or mooring, or wallowing
Jericho: tapioca air indolent. I am still there, supple and driftwood,
      you lovely,
You loved me, your memory dark and west, thoughts like tugboats
The horizon, you pulling me, my pudding, my thin crustacean,
In the late afternoon, your gaze, having so soon forgotten the sharpness
Of mornings, the bite of your look serrating the hour: my treasures, all
Of them, for the pleasure of that slice once more, of our dangling,
You and me, the lot of us in some car, driving some hour, mapless.


Under a spiderweb, a tire, slouched: flat, sad-lipped, I think of
Of the original apple, all of these clones since, all of these scentless
Descents. I shake my glass, shake again, melted suffixes tinkling;
All things natural: foliage unfurling like old bills, wryly betraying
Your habits, like the dog who digs and rubs, the dog who whines, who
Paws and circles, you trace. Why is pain so much better than nothing?
The mark of it more understandable? Why is saying nothing so
      much better?
Your one-liner like blossoms, uplifting, your currents strap me
      to air, yes
I guess there is a little texture up here, and oxygen pure as baby’s toes
Which if I recall, are sweet as kernels of corn, if I recall so long ago.

Sina Queyras ( 1963 – ), from Poetry, December 2010, winner of  POETRY’s Friend of Literature Award.

Serendipity. While checking out Rosemary Griebel’s nomination for the Pat Lowther Award for Poetry I quickly saw the name of the 2006 winner, a poet I didn’t know but whose name started with a Q – Sina Queyras. I knew I might be challenged to find a Q poet, I had none in my library, so I went on line and bought her 2009 volume Expressway.  I discovered later it had been nominated for a Governor General’s Award. I had found my Q! And a lot more.

Queyras is a very visible contemporary writer and commentator on modern poetics with special interest as she says in eco-poetics, avant-garde, conceptual, Canadian and innovative women’s writing of all genres. She founded the blog Lemon Hound; is a frequent contributor to Harriet, the POETRY FOUNDATIONS’ blog; her poem “Euphoria” was featured in the December 2010 issue of POETRY and won that magazine’s Friends of Literature Award . In addition to her four books of poetry and a book of critical essays, her first novel Autobiography of Childhood  was published late last year and was shortlisted for the First Novel Award – the winner will be announced Thursday April 26th, 2012.

Queyras is very much a welcome yet somewhat disorienting discovery for me. Her work, her use of language stretches my poetics. And while her images dominate, especially in From “Euphoria”, they do not excise feeling or narrative although at times it seems to hold on inside the poems by a thread. So much of the feeling is in the music her words create. Her lyricism. And that feeling, that “isness” which lyricism creates, is its own narrative of grief.

The Euphoria poems were inspired by a video project decribed as “reasons for euphoria” by her sister who was dying of cancer. About the poems, Queyras says in an interview with POETRY: These poems chronicle, and in a way meditate on, my sister, the city [Vancouver], and with life as much as they explore grief.

There is much to chew and savour here. Her sounds roll and wallop around in my mouth, her “ing” constructions propel me into a story where I too, am mapless yet strangely at home. And her line breaks, conduct her music, slow me down. Help me pay closer attention.

Your smoothing, your sinking in. Mornings or mooring, or wallowing
Jericho: tapioca air indolent. I am still there, supple and driftwood,
      you lovely,
You loved me, your memory dark and west, thoughts like tugboats
The horizon, you pulling me, my pudding, my thin crustacean,

And then questions come and do their own quick disrupting; pull and tear at old scars; make more pointed, the images.

Why is pain so much better than nothing?
The mark of it more understandable? Why is saying nothing so
      much better?

Here is what Queyras says about the questions in POETRY:

I can say here, outside of the poem, that to me the questions speak about propriety. How we are told we should grieve, how we are told to be, or act, in the face of kloss. In general my family seems to be the silent type, so where does thee grieving go/ It is internalizede, and it becomes something else. I’m tempted to wail, to let my body feel the loss and track the physical as well as psychological journey of grieving.

Another series of her poems, these ones in Expressway, have received particular acclaim. Three Dreams of the Expressway originally published in The Malahat Review won gold at the Canadian National Magazine Awards in 2010. These poems are not as lyrical or meditative as the ones from Euphoria. They carry a more forceful, polemical, declarative tone. Here is the first part:


The men build and the women dismantle.
On this day the women appear one by one,
Despite our best theories, they drop their

Laptops and iPods, they leave their magazines,
They step down from elliptical trainers, out of
The boxing ring, tummies flat and minds share,

They move out of the domestic sphere, they
Move away from the office towers, they come
Down to the expressways with pickaxes, they come

With hammers, they come, suddenly clear,
Suddenly swinging hammers, they say, This
Is a metaphor too unwieldy, they say, This

Is a symbol that has undone us,
they say,
This is the beginning of unmaking, they say
The future is in doing the thing right, the future

Of the economy is in the undoing
, they say
No more. You have come to the end of
The sound stage, they say. You have hit a brick wall,

They say, The possible is now inside, they say,
The new is reshaping the old, they say, the new
Plastic is the old infrastructures, they say, Let the

Planet for the planet be
, they say,
They say, risking everything, they say, Let the gaze
shift back to the probable, leave the untouched

Untouched, let the whales and elephants graze, the
Gaze turn inward, let the gaze turn in on itself.
And the women with their pickaxes unmaking.

from Expressway, Coach House Books, 2009

This is a “big” poem. In the sense that it moves out of the personal into the social, the political. A poem, that Patrick Lane, calls a poem of greater understanding. These poems are challenging. They can become dry, didactic and at worst, preachy. They can lose their distance. Stephen Dunn’s Oklahoma City, Jane Hirschfield’s Manners, Rwanda and Mary Oliver’s 1945-1985: Poem for the Anniversary are examples of these poems that work well.

And Queyras pulls it off as well. I enjoy the sinewy reach of this poem; its repetitions that create an incantatory tone. She makes a point, yes. Woman are needed to change the world, its ruinous course. But she does it I think, deftly and poetically and the meaning doesn’t overwhelm the poetry. I buy in. Could have been easy not to if the writing wasn’t as good. I am a guy afterall!

I leave the poem with lines and words that stay and echo:  This is a metaphor too unwieldy. Yes! ….the/Gaze turn inward, let the gaze turn in on itself . And the last line so memorable: And the women with their pickaxes unmaking.  Oh, if only. If only women and men could make a great unmaking. Queyras has , in this poem, turned poetry into a pickaxe. If only it could help make such an unmaking.

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