Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Q&A with Gillian Sze



Gillian Sze is the author of Quiet Night Think, a new collection of poems and essays. Her other books include the poetry collection Panicle. She lives in Montreal.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the poems and essays in your new collection, and how did you decide on the order in which they would appear in the book?


A: I wrote the title essay “Quiet Night Think” nearly eight years ago. I didn’t know then that it would be the start of a book. The other pieces came together slowly after that.


For the most part, the essays appear chronologically, as I had written them. As for the poems, I wanted to have them converse with the surrounding prose. Admittedly, I first thought Quiet Night Think would be a collection of essays, but poetry always seeps through one way or another.


Q: The book's title comes from an 8th century Chinese poem. Can you say more about that, and what it signifies for you?


A: Li Bai’s poem was one of the first poems I wanted to understand. I first learned it in Chinese school as a child and I asked my mother to explain it to me. Translating poetry is challenging enough, let alone translating poetry into a language that’s not your own!

It was through my mother’s stuttered translation that I noticed the spaces between words, cultures, and experiences. I wanted to keep that word-for-word translation of the original title and not smooth it out with English sense.


Q: The writer Madeleine Thien said of the book, “Gillian Sze has ‘the acrobatic ear’ and a generous mind. To be a mother, a daughter, a writer, a self — through reflection and poetry, essay and remembrance, these fragile threads carry one another in profound, transporting ways.” What do you think of that description?


A: Sheer astonishment. I have admired Madeleine Thien’s work for so long. She has been an important voice for me and I feel deeply honoured to have been read by her.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I can never predict where the words will go, who will find them, or how they’ll be received. I just hope someone will connect with the work in some capacity, whatever that may be.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I just saw finished illustrations for a picture book, which comes out next year. I also have another picture book coming out this June with Philomel (Penguin Random House). It’s called You Are My Favorite Colour and is illustrated by the immensely talented Nina Mata.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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