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
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.