Tuesday, November 16, 2021

2021 bpNichol Chapbook Award shortlist interviews: Terese Mason Pierre

Manifest, Terese Mason Pierre
Gap Riot Press, 2020
2021 bpNichol Chapbook Award Shortlist

The 2021 bpNichol Chapbook Award will be announced on Thursday, November 25, 2021.

Terese Mason Pierre is writer and editor whose work has appeared in Hobart, The Walrus, Quill & Quire, and Fantasy Magazine, among others. Her work has been nominated for the SFPA’s Elgin and Rhysling Awards, the bpNichol Chapbook Award, and Best of the Net. She is the co-Editor-in-Chief of Augur Magazine, a Canadian speculative literature journal. Terese has also co-hosted poetry reading series, organized literary events, facilitated creative writing workshops, and spoken at conferences. She is the author of chapbooks, Surface Area (Anstruther Press, 2019) and Manifest (Gap Riot Press, 2020). Terese lives and works in Toronto, Canada. Visit her website at: www.teresemasonpierre.com.

Manifest is your chapbook debut. What was the process of putting it together into a manuscript? How did the manuscript find shape?

Manifest is not my debut chapbook (Surface Area, with Anstruther Press, in 2019, is). But Manifest feels like a debut because these were poems that I’d never really published in earnest before, and I was quite nervous to release them. I had joined Augur Magazine in 2017 as their poetry editor, but hadn’t written any speculative poetry of my own, even though that’s what I was editing. So, in 2019, I decided to start writing in that genre. It was very freeing, in a way. I think I had a lot of hangups about what poetry was supposed to be about, and writing speculative poetry let me explore a lot more. The poems in Manifest were all the speculative ones I’d written over the course of 2019. I tried to find a way to connect them, as these poems weren't purposefully written with a chapbook in mind, but I feel readers need to tell me if I’ve succeeded.

My apologies! Frustrating to realize that I reviewed both your chapbooks, referring to each in my reviews as debuts, so I’ve clearly not been paying proper attention. I am curious of your shift into more speculative writing: does this constitute a shift away from the kinds of other writing you were doing before, or is this simply one thread of multiple you see yourself moving in and through, as you move forward?

I definitely see this as one thread of multiple. I write in many genres: literary and speculative poetry, literary and speculative fiction, short fiction, novels, as well as creative nonfiction and book reviews. I see myself writing fantasy novels as well as poetry chapbooks. I am interested in many things, so I write many things. Writing so broadly means I have a lot of “homework” to do as a writer, but it’s a responsibility I am happy to take on. My to-be-read pile is miles long.

What I appreciate about the collection is how the poems appear to hold deep influence from performance and storytelling traditions, as well as how the lyric is held on the page. Do you see your work as blending traditions, or is this simply how your poems emerge?

Speculative poetry is still new to me, and I’m still experimenting. But I’m not doing so with any tradition or strategy in mind; I’m not writing toward a specific method. I’m writing what I like, and what appeals to me, what gets me excited. I believe these poems are just emerging from that mindset. However, when others tell me that I’ve written my way into a particular mode, I am inspired to research, and learn.

What first brought you to poetry?

I have been reading poetry since childhood (my favourite book of poetry as child was Shel Silverstein’s Where The Sidewalk Ends). I took a poetry-reading hiatus during high school—as I was heading towards a Life Science degree and could only handle fiction—and in university, as I learned more and more about the writing community around me. I’ve been writing poetry since the age of 12, and as I read more of the poetry of others, I discover new ways to express the desired themes and emotions in my own work. What I like about poetry is how fluid it is, how amenable it is to the writer’s mind. It is, in my opinion, the perfect form to explore the speculative.

I’m curious: how do you define the speculative, and what does writing in this vein allow for you to do or explore that might not have been possible otherwise?

“Speculative” is an umbrella term for anything pertaining to the unreal or imagined. It encompasses fantasy, science fiction, magical realism, the supernatural, alternate histories, superhero fiction, and much, much more. I think the speculative is further broadened by metaphor (the dreamy, the surreal, the absurd, etc.). In poetry, the speculative appears in the literal as well as the metaphorical, which makes it excellent to write about, in my opinion. For me, writing in the speculative genre is a fun challenge. It allows me to find new ways to express my ideas, to defamiliarize my settings and themes, to try to get readers to see beyond what they are used to. What defines speculative poetry is a conversation (what defines poetry is conversation, too, sometimes), but I tend to focus on what the genre can do for me, what it can allow for me to learn and experiment with.

Have you been writing much in the way of poetry since Manifest was completed? What have you been working on since?

I’m working on a full-length collection, but it’s slow going—very slow. I’m also thinking about writing a third chapbook, but I’m not sure how that's going to take shape yet. I’ve learned that I can’t force poetry.

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