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Government of New Brunswick

Sue Sinclair

Sue Sinclair grew up in Newfoundland and Labrador, on the ancestral homelands of the Beothuk. She is the author of six collections of poetry, including her latest book, Almost Beauty: New and Selected Poems (Goose Lane Editions, 2022), winner of the 2022 New Brunswick Poetry Prize and shortlisted for the 2023 Walcott Prize. Sue’s previous title, Heaven's Thieves (Brick Books, 2016), won the 2017 Pat Lowther Award for the best book of poetry by a Canadian woman; all her other books have also won or been nominated for a variety of awards. Sue has a PhD in philosophy and wrote her dissertation on beauty and ethics. She currently edits for Brick Books and teaches creative writing at the University of New Brunswick on Wolastoqiyik territory, land of the “beautiful and bountiful river.”

Who or what inspires you and why?

One of the things poetry can do is find the extraordinary in the ordinary. I love that kind of work—Francis Ponge, for example, writing a whole poem about a bar of soap. I think of poetry as a kind of encounter, the words on the page an artefact of the moment when I discover the power of something else in my world—the magic of leaves, for instance, of photosynthesis, which shows up in some of my recent poems. I’ve also been learning about and encountering mushrooms—which, it turns out, grow in tremendous variety in “my” yard, though I’d somehow never noticed them before…

What drew you to poetry?

I was just reading The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida, in which a non-verbal autistic 13-year-old answers common questions about autism. One of the things he writes about is sensitivity to detail. He says that for autistic people, “when a colour is vivid or a shape is eye-catching” their attention is caught by that detail “and then our hearts kind of drown in it and we can’t concentrate on anything else.” I’m not autistic, but that rings true for me. When I encounter an image that feels vivid or catches my mind’s eye, I do feel like my heart kind of drowns in it. And that’s what drew me to poetry.

What do you enjoy most about writing poetry?

Perhaps I’ve answered this above: I love it when my heart kind of drowns in the details. I love how poetry calls on all of me, mind, body, feelings, such that I’m completely engrossed in the world of whatever I’m writing about. There’s real intimacy there—I was just writing about a butternut tree, and I feel very close to that tree as I write about it. I also imagine that I’m writing to someone who knows me as well as I know myself, who understands what I’m going to write almost before I write it…and I feel intimacy in that way, too, though there’s usually no one else literally with me as I’m writing.

What do you enjoy most about being an artist living in New Brunswick?

I enjoy the thriving literary community here, and the passionate DIY attitude of our artists generally. I’ve lived in metropolitan cities where I was spoon-fed culture—galleries, concerts, readings were easy to take for granted. We don’t take it for granted here. I think the work that goes into creating spaces for the arts is more visible here, and our arts infrastructure is that much stronger and more beloved as a result.

Describe what you are most proud of as an artist.

Decades in, I’m most proud of my persistence—that I’ve kept writing poetry year in and year out. As life has gotten more complicated and I’ve developed more responsibilities, it’s been more challenging to maintain a practice—to keep showing up, keep doing the demanding work of reaching through language further than language can really go. The time to write poetry is a privilege but it’s also hard-won.

What is your artistic approach and/or philosophy to creating art?

To write poetry, I mostly need to slow down. That’s part of what’s political about it in a culture like the one I inhabit, which increasingly demands that we pick up the pace, hustle, multitask. So my process involves slowing down. Often that means going outside. I have to cultivate a certain associative, available, susceptible frame of mind. Reading poetry helps with that, sends me into that receptive, associative mode of being. I have a ton of influences, but two of the most important were my poetry mentor at the University of New Brunswick, Jan Zwicky and Don McKay.

Who is your favourite artist(s) and why?

Picking a favourite isn’t possible. But beyond Jan and Don, mentioned above, Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer has been and continues to be a touchstone. His metaphors are mesmerizing. When I read his work, the world I’m immersed in feels a little stranger and more familiar at the same time.

What advice would you give to young, emerging artists?

Like many established writers, I’d advise emerging writers to read, read, read. Partly because of what I said about how other poets help me to enter the slow, receptive state in which poems emerge. But also because it’s such an effective way to learn technique—to learn how to use the tools available to you as a writer. And because if you’re writing, you’re participating in an enormous project to which thousands of others are contributing—reading their contributions helps you to understand what your contribution could be.

Where can people connect with you?

I don’t have a website, nor do I use social media, but people can always reach me through Goose Lane Editions.

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