Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Out-of-Town-Authors: Bren Simmers

Quill & Quire, WEB EXCLUSIVE
By Ariel Gordon 

Bren Simmers' second collection, Hastings-Sunrise (Nightwood Editions), is a long poem that spans a year of living in the East Vancouver residential neighbourhood, one of the city’s oldest.

Though she is now based in Squamish, B.C., Simmers noted that the book came out of a long effort “to find home and a sense of belonging in a city where so many people struggle with the cost of living.”

Simmers spoke to Q&Q about the collection.

What is it like writing from and to a neighbourhood, especially one as freighted as Hastings-Sunrise?

 I think that we’re drawn to our neighbourhoods as extensions of ourselves. Working on this project, I’ve come to see that home is a much larger idea than just our address or personal belongings. Where we shop and eat, or even the streets we walk on and the people we walk past, tell the story of a neighbourhood. And of course, this is just one story of Hastings-Sunrise. The neighbourhood is changing so quickly, and everyone with a connection to the place could tell a different story in a different time. In the years that I lived there, gentrifying forces became accelerated to the point of the neighbourhood being rebranded as the East Village. In these poems, I wanted to both acknowledge my complicity in that process and capture a portrait of a particular time and place.

You worked with Barbara Klar on this book. You mention in acknowledgements that she encouraged you to “put yourself in these poems.” What was it like, writing about your home? Did it place any unexpected demands on you or on the poems? 

 Barbara pushed me to go deeper in these poems, to connect my surface observations of the neighbourhood to my process of making a life there. I think this advice ultimately made Hastings-Sunrise a more meaningful book. To put myself in the poems I was forced to create a character sketch of myself that found a balance in both narrative voice and specific details. The challenge was being able to tell my own story rooted in a time and place while also leaving the reader enough room to reflect on their own experience of home. By writing about your own life, you discover you have blind spots. I am grateful to friends who read earlier versions of this manuscript and provided me feedback, pointing out gaps that were subconsciously filled in by my personal experiences.

To read the rest of the interview, see the Quill & Quire website.

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This interview is part of a National Poetry Month feature on Quill & Quire. Upcoming: interviews with Elena Johnson & K.I. Press.

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