Massy Interviews / Ellie Sawatzky
September 8 @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm PDT
On Thursday, September 8th at 6pm, join Massy Arts, Massy Books, and poets Sarah Ens + Ellie Sawatzky, reading from their new poetry collections Flyway (2022, Turnstone Press) and None of This Belongs to Me (2021, Nightwood Editions).
At this in-person event, Sarah and Ellie will be joined by host and moderator Kevin Spenst for an evening celebrating poetry and the earth, and exploring Mennonite heritage and the various ways in which we find home.
The event will be hosted at the Massy Arts Gallery, at 23 East Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver.
This event is free + open to all of our community, and registration is mandatory.
Covid Protocols: For all in-person events, attendees must provide proof of vaccination, and use of mask at all times when at the gallery. We ask that if you are showing any symptoms, that you stay home. Thank you kindly.
Click here to register for the event
Click here to purchase Flyway by Sarah Ens
Click here to purchase None of This Belongs to Me by Ellie Sawatzky
To celebrate this poetry night, Rafael Zen interviews Sawatzky for Massy Arts, addressing her Mennonite heritage and the various ways in which a poet finds home.
Ellie Sawatzky / Poetry, and the longing for something you can no longer return to
Rafael Zen – The event’s synopsis says that through poetry you will explore your Mennonite heritage and the various ways in which one finds home. Do you think poetry takes you closer to some kind of home? How would you describe this act of one finding home? How does this relate to literature?
Ellie Sawatzky – Somewhere along the way—while researching Mennonite history, culture, language, for one poem or another—I discovered a low German word “heimweh” which describes an innate feeling of homesickness that Mennonites experience because they have no true homeland. It’s a yearning for a home that doesn’t even exist.
I think “home” is subjective—it could be a town, a house, a person, a place you go in your mind. I think often we have many homes. So in that sense, I think just about everyone experiences heimweh—a longing for something you can no longer return to.
Poetry doesn’t “take me home” so to speak, but it points me in the right direction; poetry validates my feelings of homesickness, and brings together the disparate elements of my being so that I feel more at home within myself.
RZ – Do you think your writing styles have similarities? If so, what would they be? What is it in each other’s poetry that interested you in doing a double feature for this poetry event?
ES – Sarah and I are close in age, we grew up in the same part of the world (Canadian prairies/shield country), and we have a similar cultural background, so of course there is crossover in our work, both stylistically and thematically.
I think we both capture a kind of millennial nostalgia/angst in our poetry, a sense of sorrow over being unable to return—to a time before the Internet, a time of innocence, a time when writing No Doubt lyrics on a friend’s jeans made us feel immortal, and even further back, to the time of our foremothers, the ancestors we never got to know.
Matrilineage is another theme we both explore; we both question and challenge religious rites and traditional gender roles, and explore the ways in which we honour and eschew our ancestors. We are also both storytellers, we both spend time developing narrative elements in our poetry, emphasizing character and landscape.
One of my favourite things about reading poetry is the juxtaposition of the familiar and unfamiliar. I see myself reflected in one line—then the next line takes me somewhere else entirely, somewhere I’ve never been before.
With Sarah’s poetry, I experience this on a more extreme level because of the similarities in our backgrounds. It absolutely gives me chills.
RZ – Why gathering folks around to read poetry? Do you think that this collective act may have cathartic powers? Why should someone sit down and listen to poems?
ES – Yes, I absolutely think it has cathartic powers. Gathering together to tell each other stories is a deeply human act; it has the power to heal us. We witness each other in our feelings and experiences.
Writing poetry can be a lonely pursuit; when we gather together to read and listen to poetry, we’re reminded we’re not alone. Since publishing None of This Belongs to Me, which is my first book, I’ve often wondered about the experiences people are having with my poems that I don’t get to see—the way I’ve had experiences with poems that the poets don’t get to see.
I’m grateful for every opportunity to connect with an audience, to be able to see people experience my poetry. I also believe that poetry is meant to be read out loud.
RZ – Can you send us one of your poems – one that you are excited to share with the attendees of this event? Why this poem? What do you think it activates in the reader/listener?
ES – I’m sending you my poem “If You’re Writing This Down.” I’m excited to read this poem because I’ve never shared it with an audience before, and I think it will be fun. There are notes of humour, places where I poke fun at myself, my life, or point out the ridiculousness of the world.
It’s kind of a found poem; I pieced it together from my iPhone notes, so it speaks to the ways I try to house the disparate, fragmentary elements of my being, to connect them, to give them shape and meaning.
If You’re Writing This Down
we have to only say nice things Grandma says
falling asleep on the couch squash
crackling in the oven I dream abt animals
running thru the bush
Grandma says no one knows
why we’re here
ritual ablutions whisky
in my childhood bedroom I find a cheque
I never cashed forty bucks
from the bookstore in Kenora folded
between the pages of a paperback romance Suddenly
You first idea of money first of sex
the last thing I Googled was Mennonite women sexuality
at Auntie Wendy’s house
art on the wall says
you haven’t had a night until you’ve had
Grandma says you can’t help but feel free
the guy next to me on the plane
tells me to visit whopayswriters.com
is freedom the opposite of anxiety?
what’s the opposite of stone?
the man I love is somewhere thinking
about pyramids and old rocks how the earth
might be flat
conspiracy conspire breathe with
go along with thus to follow an idea
into eternity/black hole
I buy a globe for $6 at the Salvation Army
bc fuck that
you can’t help but feel free
the words for sewing wax and sex are next
to each other in the Plautdietsch dictionary there are
seven different words for pigpen
Auntie Sandy says Great-Grandpa Schellenberg
had a moonshine still
Mom sends me pictures of our ancestors
being exhumed when the farm sold skull
and lace collar
Grandma says all these stories sound a little other but
I write down wedding dress re-used
people from her time never admit anything
went wrong — 20th Century Women
last night I slept better bc a deer slept
outside my window
airport bathrooms never not playing Shakira
halved plums like blue hearts
inside perogies (Grandma taught me)
the last thing I Googled was watch project free tv
the only phrase I remember in Plautdietsch
means mind your own business (Grandma taught me)
no one knows why we’re here
I use the ferry WiFi to watch
ASMR roleplays stare at the sea
and have my eyebrows shaped by a woman
on the Internet with a hard
American accent acrylic nails
her baby’s footprint tattooed on her neck
the ferry doors open like an opera
on the island I try to feel free
what’s the opposite of island?
we hike thru mountain shadow
giant rhubarb tiny ferns that look
like insect skeletons
if the earth is flat I ask him then what
does it look like?
watching Under the Tuscan Sun
and masturbating = freedom
or that time Grandma helped out the Hell’s Angels
it’s a kind of happiness this sadness
cloudy the sun looks like the moon
from the airplane the country’s a slow read
falling asleep on Grandma’s couch I dream
I’m an animal running thru the bush
to get here