Poet-scholar Gillian Sze's Quiet Night Think fuses prose and lyric into a hybrid whole that meditates on place, identity, tradition, adaptation, what to hold and how, and the language these things are filtered through. We chatted recently by email about how the book took shape and what's ahead.

SUSAN GILLIS: I’m struck by your ease of movement through the book’s meditations in prose and poetry on its interwoven subjects of language and culture, family, transitions and becoming. Where did this collection begin for you, and at what point did you begin to conceive of it as hybrid whole? (aside: autotype called it a coolection)

GILLIAN SZE: The collection (coolection!) began with the title essay, “Quiet Night Think.” I was asked to write about writing and I found myself thinking about that early encounter with poetry. Li Bai’s poem clearly made an impact. I was working on my dissertation at the time, and I found it so enjoyable to write something that wasn’t purely poetry nor purely academic. The essay just felt like an easy wandering into languages and time. 
            When I proposed the book to the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec, I envisioned it as a book of essays. In the end, when I was putting the essays together, I discovered that the poems I was also writing during this time intersected well, both in tone and subject. So much of writing during early motherhood is fragmented and interrupted. It felt right that the essays would also be punctured with these slivers of poems. 

SG: There’s a passage in “The Hesitant Gaze,” on looking at art and writing from that looking, that could be about the guiding project of this book: “while my looking was stuck in our own linear poetry, I could fold, replay, imagine and extend the lines of time and movement any which way.” How does this way of writing in conversation with art inform or overlap for you with writing as a new mother?

GS: So much about time didn’t make sense after becoming a parent. The baby had to sort out day from night. Until then I would just stare up into the dark with a curious wide-eyed baby while everyone else was asleep. In some ways I had a lot of time, taking a break from the demands of a “regular” life, and yet I also had so little, thrust into meeting the constant demands of someone else. I had time to think, but I also wasn’t always awake enough to remember my thoughts. An idea would sometimes return, feeling new or strange or half-understood. And all the while my children, these all-consuming, ever-changing little beings, received my attention. They, like other art objects, became (and continue to be) vital points connecting me to an unforeseeable world.

SG: I love your image in “That Inverted World” of sleep as a ribbon, now punctuated. Now that you’ve returned to teaching, can we assume you’ve conquered the most disruptive influences of sleeplessness ? What’s next for you as a writer?

GS: It’s taken years but my sleeping has certainly improved! I’m still writing poetry but have recently fallen in love with writing for children. Next year I have three picture books coming out, including the board book, When Sunlight Tiptoes.The poem, written in pantoum form, celebrates the new day and is accompanied by Soyeon Kim’s enchanting artwork.

Read Gillian Sze's poem "Current"