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Massy Interviews / Ellie Sawatzky

On Thursday, September 8th at 6pm, join Massy ArtsMassy 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

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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.

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Ellie Sawatzky / Poetry, and the longing for something you can no longer return to

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

i. winter

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

a Mennonite

Tinder profile?

Grandma says you can’t help but feel free

the guy next to me on the plane

tells me to visit

is freedom the opposite of anxiety?

what’s the opposite of stone?

ii. spring

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

iii. summer

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

iv. fall

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?

v. winter

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

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