Launchpad: Junebat, by John Elizabeth Stintzi

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This spring we've made it our mission (even more than usual) to celebrate new releases in the wake of cancelled launch parties, book festivals, and reading series. With 49th Shelf Launchpad, we're holding virtual launch parties here on our platform complete with witty banter, great insight, and short and snappy readings to give you a taste of the books on offer. You can request these books from your local library, get them as e-books or audio books, order them from your local indie bookseller if they're delivering, buy them direct from the publisher or from online retailers.

First up is John Elizabeth Stintzi, whose poetry has been awarded the 2019 RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers and the Long Poem Prize from the Malahat Review. Their debut poety collection is Junebat, of which Billy Ray Belcourt has written, "To the poetics of the queer everyday Stintzi adds their ‘Junebat,’ a multitudinous concept of such explanatory power I’m certain it’ll endure in the collective memory of Canadian writing."

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The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence.

It’s about wrestling with identity, and realizing you identify more with the struggle than any idea of a victor.

Describe your ideal reader.

Is a big fan of uncertainty (or isn’t).

Liked Wallace Stevens in college (or didn’t).

Loves New Jersey (or hates it).

Cheekiness aside, I think this book challenges most strong feelings, and creates a little bit more space for murkiness, so the ideal reader is one who is willing to be shaken up a little. Also, there are a surprising amount of love poems in this book, so if you like a good love poem, I’ve got you covered.

What authors/books is your work in conversation with?

There are many writers who I’m sure infect my book in ways I probably couldn’t identify here, but the work of a plethora of excellent trans and queer writers have certainly been key to my having any queer-imagination (which includes like Casey Plett, beyza ozer, A. Light Zachary, J. Jennifer Espinoza, Ivan Coyote, and many others).

Aside from them, the work of James Schuyler (particularly his Morning of the Poem) really punctured my voice around when the project started, and T Fleischmann’s extraordinary Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through pushed it over the goal line during the edits. The book also, explicitly and consistently, riffs off and dialogues with poems by Wallace Stevens.

What is something interesting you learned about your book/yourself/your subject during the process of creating and publishing your book?

Honestly, I learned a lot about how much I felt was left to do as soon as the book was accepted for publication. I think I’d grown a little weary of the book from the previous year or so of revision and submission, and suddenly when I knew the book was coming out I saw the faults that I didn’t have the energy to acknowledge before and was like, shit, now’s the time to make it good!

How has your relationship between you and your work changed during this unprecedented global health crisis?

My main coping strategy has been getting back to actually writing. Early in March, around when my partner and I decided not to go to the AWP conference, I realized the tour that both my publishers (both Anansi for Junebat and Arsenal for my novel Vanishing Monuments) and I had been planning for the books since January was doomed to be cancelled (and a week or two later, it was). Looking back, I saw how much time and head space I’d allotted to something that was crumbling before my eyes. That forced me to change of perspective a little, in that it showed me how much I needed to put the writing work before the rest, because it is the only thing I really have any control over.

An important part of any book launch are the thank you’s. Go ahead, and acknowledge someone whose support has been integral to this project.

I do a pretty good job of filling a few pages with thank you’s in the book, but I will say that I wouldn’t be able to do anything without the love and support of my partner Melanie. Especially since she is featured in a sizeable chunk of the later poems in Junebat.

What are you reading right now or next?

I’m looking forward to diving into My Art Is Killing Me and Other Poems by Amber Dawn.

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About Junebat:

John Elizabeth Stintzi’s unforgettable debut collection, Junebat, grapples with the pain of uncertainty on the path towards becoming. Set during the year Stintzi lived in deep isolation in Jersey City, NJ, these poems map the depression the poet struggled with as they questioned and came to grips with their gender identity. Through the invention of the Junebat — a contradictory, evolving, ever-perplexing creature — Stintzi is able to create a self-defined space within the poems where they can reside comfortably, beyond the firm boundaries of the gender binary or the plethora of identities gathered under the queer umbrella.

As the speaker of the poems begins to emerge from their depression, the second wing of the book tracks their falling in love with a young woman surfacing from the end of her marriage. Challenging, heartbreaking, soaring, and powerfully new, the poems in Junebat demolish false walls and pull the reader to the dark edges of the mind, showing us how identity doesn’t have to be rigid or static but can be defined by confusion and contradiction, possibility and a metamorphosis that never ends.

April 7, 2020
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