This interview by H.L. Hix is one of a series, many of which will be collected in Alter Nation: America in Recent Poetry, Recent Poetry in America, from Ugly Duckling Presse (fall 2012). Hix loves the interview form as a way of thinking together (itself a condition of democracy, justice, philosophy, and other ideals and practices he values), and as one element in a community poetics. The subject of this interview is Sina Queyras’s Teethmarks (Nightwood Editions, 2004).
H. L. Hix: At least in the book’s second section, the centrality of Cindy Sherman (especially combined with the Berger references) suggests something I suspect is also true of the other sections also, namely that women’s experience—as contrasted to men’s experience and distinct from what human experience may be shared across gender—is a focal concern. I take it as among the various implications of Sherman’s work that one such gender-specific aspect of experience is im-personation—our ways of creating/receiving our identities and inhabiting them. Am I right to hear the same implication in this sequence of poems?
Sina Queyras: Yes, identities are of concern to me, not only gendered identities, but identities, and perhaps more so the awareness or extent to which we are conscious of the activity of creating identities. Most of us seem quite at the mercy of ourselves, we plead ignorance; we are passive, we cling to passivity as if it wasn’t a choice. Creation and consciousness in general is a concern in all of my work.
HH: If I may continue to frame things in terms of assumption of identity, is it fair to see the lines “how // many will die today so that we / can be hot and bored” (16) as an explicit statement of a concern implicit throughout the book, that “we” (in the poem a specific couple but in the book broadly we humans) assume our identities at the expense of others? Or is that putting too much (or the wrong) weight on those lines?
SQ: No, I don’t think that’s putting too much weight on those lines. At the risk of suffering what Teilhard de Chardin termed compassion fatigue, I prefer to factor in the full costs of decisions we humans make. We are having a tough time at the moment, globally, but it seems to me that this is a backlash that arose from so many years of refusing to acknowledge the cost of our actions, politically, socially, economically, and creatively. I understand that we have to make decisions that are harmful, and I can make tough decisions, but I am largely offended by the lack of connection between the choices we make daily and the world that those choices end up creating. Again, choices. Creation. It’s a matter of consciousness.
HH: I want to take the title poem as suggesting that our alter egos are not alter at all, but that my self is as much constructed of my substitute selves as it is distinguished from them. Again, in doing so am I in touch with the poem?
SQ: “Teeth Marks,” the title poem in the collection, recounts a moment of revelation and identification between two young girls. It’s that moment when the activity of projecting one’s identify onto objects becomes palpable. It’s a moment of consciousness and I am fascinated by the ways in which humans behave in these moments. So much of the time we simply stuff these bits back into some formal shape, tear off the uncomfortable details, or simply pretend we don’t see, or hear. So yes, it can be read as suggesting that our alter egos are not so alter after all, or again, as an opportunity to see into the multiplicity and constructedness of self. Even of childhood.
Sina Queyras is the author most recently of Autobiography of Childhood (Coach House 2011). Her collection of poetry, Expressway (Coach House 2009), was nominated for a Governor General’s Award. Lemon Hound (Coach House 2006) won a Lambda Award and the Pat Lowther Award. Her poetry, fiction and nonfiction have appeared in journals internationally, including The London Review, Poetry, Fence, Geist and Siecle 21. In 2005 she edited Open Field: 30 Contemporary Canadian Poets, for Persea Books. She has taught creative writing at Rutgers, Haverford and Concordia University in Montreal, where she currently resides.