You are currently viewing Massy Interviews / Zoe Dickinson

Massy Interviews / Zoe Dickinson

On Tuesday, September 20 at 6pm, join Massy ArtsMassy Books, and poets Jody Chan + Zoe Dickinson for the launch of their poetry books: “sick” (2020, Black Lawrence Press), and “Intertidal: poems from the littoral zone” (2022, Raven Chapbooks).

At the in-person event, authors will read passages from the books, and address their research in poetic literature. After the readings, Chan and Dickinson will also answer questions from the audience and engage on intimate conversations with readers.

This event was supported by the Canada Council for the Arts + the Writer’s Union of Canada.

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. The gallery is wheelchair accessible and a gender-neutral washroom is on-site.

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.

Please be sure to register for this event.

Purchase “sick” by Jody Chan at Massy Books.

: :

To inspire a new generation of poets, Rafael Zen interviews Dickinson for Massy Arts, investigating what kind of conversations a poetry compilation may establish with audiences, and her style as a poet, writing a chapbook as a love letter to our planet.

: :

Zoe Dickinson / Poetry that looks beyond the habitual boundaries of human life

: :

Rafael Zen – Why choosing the shoreline of the Pacific West Coast as an inspiration for poems? What did you want to create by translating nature into words? And mostly – what can readers expect from this chapbook?

Zoe Dickinson – I grew up inland, in Quebec. When I first saw the Pacific Ocean, it knocked my socks off. It’s been drawing me deeper ever since. Since I moved here, I don’t think a day has gone by when I haven’t visited the water at least once, if only for a few minutes.

I wanted to publish a book about the Pacific shoreline because that ecosystem has been immensely soul-nourishing for me as an artist and a human. I want to give my readers a personal stake in the survival of this fragile, incredibly diverse ecosystem.

What can readers can expect? To end up on a first-name basis with anemones, nudibranchs, and sea urchins. I want to make it impossible to hear about an oil spill, or cruise ships dumping waste water, or any of the many other threats faced by the Pacific shoreline, and not feel the kind of visceral pang that hits you when you hear of a close friend in peril.

: :

RZ – As the synopsis claims, why do you think, as an author, that the whole world is beautiful and vastly worthwhile? Do you think this chapbook is a love letter to our planet?

ZD – Yes. This book is a love letter to the Pacific. I hope that once you read it, you won’t be able to un-see the beauty of the mollusc, the swallow, even the mosquito. The closer you look at the natural world, the more fascinating detail you’ll see.

I dare anyone to take the time to pay attention to the world around them and not be blown away by the beauty of it. Humans are a mixed bag, in my opinion, but one of the things that makes us worthwhile as a species is our ability to appreciate the beauty around us. Poetry is a tool to help us do that.

: :

RZ – Why do you write poetry? When readers find your writing, who is the author they encounter? And in this way, what kind of conversations do you try to establish with your audience?

ZD – Jenny Odell calls artworks “training apparatuses for attention”; “if what we see forms the basis of how we act, then the importance of directing our attention becomes all too clear” (How to Do Nothing, 2019).

This is what my poetry is for: to widen the cracks in myself and peek through, to look past myself at the world. My poems say, “LOOK!” Look beyond the habitual boundaries of your human life and see the complex web of life around you. Pay attention.

Imagine a little kid at the beach running around and accosting you constantly with this cool pebble they found, this snail, this funny-shaped piece of driftwood… ooh, hey look at this seaweed! That’s the conversation I’m trying to have with my audience.

: :

RZ – If you could choose one poem from your book – one that represents the core theme/style of your book, what would this poem be? Can you share it with our readers? Why did you choose this one?

ZD – I think I’d have to go with nudibranch. This is one of the earlier ones, written years ago but I’ve kind of kept honing it. One day, not long after moving down to Dallas Road, I was exploring tidal pools at Holland Point Park and I encountered a shaggy mouse nudibranch (aeolidia loui) in one of the deeper pools. I’d never even heard of a nudibranch before, and I was absolutely fascinated by this strange, alien, oddly graceful creature that seemed to be moving through the world on a completely different plane from myself.

That was one of my first “aha!” moments at the beach, when I realized it wasn’t just a place where I enjoyed hanging out; it was in fact a whole world, full of beings with their own lives and relationships. I’ve been obsessed with nudibranchs ever since.

I think this poem embodies both the intense scrutiny of the natural world and also the personal and sometimes unexpected sense of connection that you’ll find throughout this book.

: :


well, that’s one way to deal with fear:
instead of getting harder,
cast off the shell
become all soft underbelly
expose every bit of glowing skin
and dare the world to take a bite

what is armour
but participation
with the predator?

uncaged by calcium
flesh leaps like flame
canary, tangerine, violet
luminous cyan
extravagant ruffles of cerata
so translucent, bits of digestive tract
are visible inside

the nudibranch takes a hydroid into its mouth
accepts the polyp’s poison
saves explosive defence cells
full of venom
for later

O noble sea lemon
cryptic nudibranch
dubious dorid
moss landing aeolid

O Spanish dancer
called inkspot
fuzzy onchidoris

teach me to be soft
and inexorable

: :