You are currently viewing Massy Interviews / Sarah Ens

Massy Interviews / Sarah Ens

On Thursday, September 8th at 6pm, join Massy ArtsMassy Books, and poets Sarah Ens + Ellie Sawatzky, for the reading event of 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 Ens for Massy Arts, questioning poetic literature that addresses home created through memory, relationships, and story.

: :

Sarah Ens / Poetry wants to be performed

: :

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?

Sarah Ens – I think I’ll always be trying to work out questions of home through my writing. In my book Flyway, which follows the experiences of my Mennonite grandmother fleeing to Manitoba after her family’s displacement from Ukraine during WWII, I investigate my relationship to the place I call home: the southern part of Treaty One territory.

How did my Mennonite ancestors conceive of home? How did they, as settlers participating in the dispossession of Indigenous people from the land, shape the tall grass prairie ecosystem into what they understood as home? Who else—human and non-human—calls this place home? And how can we make sense of home during a time of climate emergency and global migration? Poetry offered a way for me to respond to these home-finding questions.

I’m also interested in, and dwell within, homes created through memory, relationships, and story. Poetry, and literature more generally, is a way to share experiences, ideas, and emotions, creating space for connection and homecoming.

: :

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?

SE – When Ellie and I first met in a UBC creative writing workshop, she was drinking out of a Winnipeg Folk Festival travel mug, so I recognized our kinship even before I read any of her (excellent) work.

I really admire how Ellie’s poetry mixes reverence with irony, or maybe how it invites reverence for everyday “worldliness”—the embarrassing and effortful and excessive and illicit.

That insistence on finding hallowed ground in late-night Google searches or imaginary boyfriends is something we share, I think.

: :

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?

SE – Poetry wants to be performed! Reading a poem out loud lifts the sounds and the breath and the rhythms off the page. I love listening to poems with other people—I get the same feeling when singing or praying together.

We’re collectively giving our attention to a shared intention and experience. My first book, The World Is Mostly Sky, came out during the first few months of the pandemic and although I was grateful for opportunities to read my work to faces on screens, it’s been such a joy to read with people again.

: :

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?

SE – Here’s an excerpt of “Tallgrass Psalmody,” one of the sequences in Flyway. I was really focused on how I could evoke the tall grass landscape through assonance, sibilance, and meter throughout “Tallgrass Psalmody,” so it’s fun for me to read these parts out loud. I also think this section circles in on the most vital questions of the book as it moves from despairing to hopeful and back again.

From “Tallgrass Psalmody: Part Three”

What story are you telling? Whose?

                                        I will try to tell the truth
                                        I say, crouching to pluck
                          the broken blood
                                        feather from its slimy net of reeds.

        Look how skin like wax
        sheaths the hollow quill—

                                    lift your head
                                    & look.

Will you join the chorus?

An ongoing trill
follows the fringe
of bur oak & black
ash, stirs up
the overcast. O
stray, scrambling
for purchase
on a soft ridge
of song: this journey
winds through you
as guide.

                                      Once, I held out my hand
                          & a nuthatch picked a peanut from
                                      my palm, its feet both sharp & light,
                                      its body fleeting & full & I think,
                                                                              if nothing else,
                        I can hold myself still enough to brush,
                                   even briefly,
                                   against this presence, airborne
                                                  & tipping
                                                  my whole face
                                                               to the rain.

                                                                After many minutes listening:

savannah sparrow; clay-coloured sparrow; red-winged blackbird;
brown-headed cowbird; western meadowlark; mourning dove

             Birds, like poems, follow the river.

Will you look well, dwell with, attend?

Above aspen &
maple, sage &
aster, you may
glean a landscape
inherited. Approach
& singing praise.

                            In my Oma’s margins: How do you remember home?

Have you recalled your flock?

The horizon shimmers oil
rainbows & weather
worsens. Gauge
the groundwater
you’ve sent away
the severity
of the next

Now, make
a racket.

                                                               One-third of migratory grassland birds
                                                                                            are nearing extinction
                                                                                                                      I read,
                                                                                                                      read again,

                                                                                             A crow watching
                                                   from the hydro pole along the highway
                                                              tilts its head, extends its throat.

: :