Surprising Affirmation

Steven Ross Smith

If my perspective is accurate, poets often feel that their work falls into the void. Reviews are few, sales are minimal, and the retail shelf life (if any) is short. Of course there are exceptions—the award-winning books, the poets with reputations, the iconic books. But, for most of us, a few years after a book has been published, it seems to have died completely.

But surprising affirmations can come. Such was the case for me recently.

The Toronto-based poet Soraya Peerbaye published a book, Tell: poems for a girlhood (Pedlar Press, 2015). The book recently won the Trillium Book Award and was shortlisted for the Griffin Prize for Poetry. It is a notable book that explores the details of the murder of Reena Virk, a girl of South Asian descent, who was killed by a group of high school classmates in 1997, in Saanich, British Columbia. The book also attends to the details and evidence of the perpetrators’ trials in heart-wrenching lyric. The Griffin prize judges citation states: “Peerbaye bears brave witness to the unspeakable brutality of these events, drawing from testimonies of the convicted, the victim’s autopsy report, and a history of the landscape itself.”

I knew about the book and its successes, but I would never have considered Soraya’s book or her comments about that book would relate to me and my work. But startlingly, within two days in July 2016, I found that Soraya had cited my book Fluttertongue 4: adagio for the pressured surround, (NeWest Press, 2007) in two different interviews, as an influence.

Here’s what she said in an interview with Phoebe Wang for The Rusty Toque: “I also read Steven Ross Smith’s Fluttertongue 4: adagio for the pressured surround. It’s an annotated vigil: there’s a violence in its lyricism, in the tension and release between memory, a contemplation of the political, the act of tending to the beloved during a prolonged dying, and the quotidian. I feel the influence of that collection in the Gorge poems in Tell.” She also cited my book in an interview by poet rob mclennan for the Ploughshares blog: Fluttertongue — holds the self in relation to the political world.”

As I said, I was surprised, but I am also honoured and humbled to have my work acknowledged by a fine poet and whose courageous book, bore, in my mind, no connection to mine.

Such affirmations give me hope. I…we poets…cast our words, it seems, to the wind. Sometimes they blow away, and sometimes they land.

Thank you Soraya Peerbaye, for your artful efforts and your words.