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Q&A: Poet Ann Shin on her new collection (and smashing china)

(photo: Sandy Nicholson)

It’s been a busy month for Toronto poet and filmmaker Ann Shin. In early May she premiered her latest documentary, The Defector: Escape from North Korea, at the Hot Docs film festival. On Wednesday night at Toronto’s Soho House, where she will launch her second book of poetry, The Family China (Brick Books), Shin will debut a short film and is planning some unusual audience participation: attendees will be invited on stage to break pieces of family china.

Q&Q spoke to Shin about her new collection and the cathartic act of destroying personal objects.

How would you describe your relationship to household objects like china? Sometimes you just have to do spring cleaning “ they clutter our environment and become reminders of things we don’t necessarily want to be reminded of. But there’s a lot more to the book. It’s not just about pots and plates and dishes, it’s about death and loss and migration. The through-lines are these domestic objects, which appear again and again in the poems.

Why did you make a film to accompany the collection? A lot of our domestic items “ china, pottery, or whatever “ tend to accrue meaning over time. I started talking to people about that and they had a lot interesting things to say, so I started filming them. But I really wanted to get people on film smashing stuff who suddenly have licence to do something you rarely get to do.

Who appears in the film? I did a call-out among friends and acquaintances. Going forward, I hope to film my reading events, and expand the library of people talking about their experiences. It will be like a travelling show.

If a reader wants to smash an object at your launch, what should they do? People should bring something that’s near and dear to them “ or something they hate “ and talk about it, or they can just smash it. I will also have a selection of Goodwill donations for people to smash. (RSVP to Shin’s launch at thefamilychinarsvp@gmail.com.)

This interview has been edited and condensed.