In the hopes of encouraging a broader exchange among U.S. and Canadian poets, H. L. Hix has designed a series of one-question “mini-interviews” for his Canadian peers. A selection of these interviews will be incorporated into his forthcoming book Ley Lines (Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2015). The subject of this interview is Sue Sinclair’s Breaker.
H.L. Hix: I am struck by the ambiguity of the book’s very last poem, “Asleep,” especially its last line. “We sleep side-by-side with eternity, and never touch” might mean that we two humans (the speaker and the particular person being addressed by the speaker) sleep, both of us alongside eternity, and we two humans never touch one another, or it might mean that we humans each of us individually sleeps alongside eternity, and we never touch eternity. (The line might sustain other meanings as well.) No doubt the ambiguity is intentional, so I do not ask you to “settle the matter” by removing the ambiguity, but I do ask: How does the line’s ambiguity cast back over the poems that preceded it in the book? Does it magnify other ambiguities?
Sue Sinclair: The line does seem to raise the question you’ve unearthed: Who or what exactly is sleeping and not touching? In some ways the answer depends on how one reads “we,” but it also hinges on “eternity”—what exactly is it? I think that this particular dimension of the line’s ambiguity may be important: In some ways eternity has to be ambiguous, undefinable—it’s more than anyone can say. At best we might say that eternity is the mysterious, massive something of which we are all a part. So insofar as I’m part of it, I’m intimate with it (sleep side-by-side with it). And insofar as you’re a part of it and I’m sleeping side-by-side with you, I’m intimate with it. But there’s still that way in which it’s out of reach. It’s both part of my everyday life and utterly ephemeral. It’s both me and beyond me.
Although I can’t say what eternity is exactly, I can say that the feelings it gives me are… not quite ambiguous, but complex, paradoxical. I’m comforted by the felt presence of something so massive to which I belong in my every waking and sleeping moment; it’s a kind of home. But it also makes me feel lonely, because I can’t quite touch it (what is it?) and I don’t always know it’s there (who lives her life in constant awareness of eternity?). Even when I am conscious of it, it’s so large that it can be hard to feel at home in.
Here’s another way of thinking about the ambiguity around eternity: Are you familiar with Benjamin’s use of the term “aura”? He tells us that he means by this “the phenomenon of a distance no matter how close” (among other things). In some ways the line from “Asleep” is about this phenomenon.
I’ve gone on about the ambiguity of the word “eternity,” and my complex feelings about it, because you asked about the relation of this line’s ambiguity to ambiguities in the rest of the book. To be honest, I don’t think of my work as presenting many ambiguities. I do use a lot of “we,” but I tend to think the referents are usually pretty clear (though I could be deluded!). But I explore this phenomenon of closeness-in-the-midst-of-distance and distance-in-the-midst-of-closeness again and again (and again). I’ve always loved the idea of developing a familiarity with what is mysterious, of limning the contours of mystery. I guess that’s what I think of a poem as doing. And it also seems to me to be part of the task of living well in the world: staying tuned into the world around you, such that you become intimate with its mysteriousness, know it as both familiar and other. This, I think, is the path to responsibility.
Sue Sinclair is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Breaker from Brick Books. Her books have been nominated for various national and regional awards in Canada. Sue is currently critic-in-residence for CWILA (Canadian Women in the Literary Arts). She is also completing a PhD in philosophy on the subject of beauty.