Cecily Nicholson’s collection Wayside Sang is winner of the 2018 Governor General’s Award for English-language poetry. We caught up with Cecily this month as part of our ongoing coverage of this year’s Governor General’s Award winners.
The jury said of the collection, “In this hypnotic suite of long poems, Cecily Nicholson makes room, offering glimpses and echoes of the Canadian landscape as she explores ideas of borders, identity, industry and travel. She offers a catalogue of impressions, a collage of the ephemeral, held together by image and the pulsing phrase that stays with you long after the journey is over."
Cecily Nicholson, from small-town Ontario via Toronto and South Bend, relocated to the Pacific Coast almost two decades ago. On Musqueam-, Squamish-, and Tsleil-Waututh-land known as Vancouver, she has worked in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood for the last 18 years—most recently as administrator of the artist-run centre and mental health resource, Gallery Gachet. A part of the Joint Effort prison abolitionist group and a member of the Research Ethics Board for Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Cecily is the newly appointed Interpretive Programmer at the Surrey Art Gallery. She is the author of Triage and From the Poplars, winner of the 2015 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize.
THE CHAT WITH CECILY NICHOLSON
Trevor Corkum: What moves or inspires you as a poet?
Cecily Nicholson: What moves or inspires me most as a poet does so in general. I am drawn in to the movement and ecology that manifests in my everyday. I enjoy the quiet and the subtle and how what is marginal when viewed in the aggregate, becomes significant.
In poetry I love being able to move between and to intersect with scales—to consider how political economy meets human dialogue or a pipeline parallels a migration route, for example. The City is inanimate, yet its infrastructure bursts skeletal rebar. The frost-heaved concrete flows with material and people. My commutes are always somehow affective.
As I have experienced, and continue at times to be situated amid, violent (interpersonal and systemic) conditions there is a peace that grows on the page for me. It is a place of rest–a place of enduring and constructive response that connects me to wider-reaching discourse and community.
TC: Are there poets or artists with whom you feel a particular kinship or allegiance?
CN: I admire and will always return to the work of M. NourbeSe Philip and Marie Annharte and Dionne Brand. I could immerse myself in the paintings of Alex Janvier and David Garneau. I study the work of Tau Lewis and Cheryl L’Hirondelle and Tanya Lukin Linklater and am called to expand and to ground. Brilliant convenors and conjurors in art abound–Deanna Bowen, Nasrin Himada, Yaniya Lee, Carmen Papalia, Tania Willard, it is an inspiring time.
By the way, I am never not reading science fiction, and the legacy of black women’s writing therein is surely kindred. The poets I listen to are many! These days I would not want to be without the contemporary voices of Hari Alluri, Billy Ray Belcourt, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Mercedes Eng, Junie Désil, Jasmine Gibson, Aja Monet, Julie Okot Bitek, Jordan Scott, Rita Wong… of course, too short a list.