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Barking and Biting: The Poetry of Sina Queyras

by Sina Queyras; Erin Wunker (ed.)

Barking and Biting: The Poetry of Sina Queyras is the Laurier Poetry Series’s 24th publication since its inception in 2004. The LPS monographs, with their survey-length selections, critical introductions, and authors’ afterwords, seem tailored for CanLit course consumption, though they equally envision a readership “beyond the classroom.”

wunker-queyrasBorrowing a term from critic Barbara Godard, Erin Wunker, the present volume’s editor, calls Sina Queyras an “ex-centrique.” She is “[n]either wholly outside, nor wholly in … an interloper who keeps things current, interesting, and deliberately unsettled.” Wunker builds on this thesis by suggesting that Queyras’s work straddles the “perceived divide” between lyric and conceptual writing in 21st-century Canadian poetics.

Early poems in the more traditional lyric mode of “Scrabbling” (republished in part from Queyras’s 2001 debut, Slip), wherein the speaker is a newly arrived, still disoriented “student / in Leonard Cohen’s town, on stone-laid avenues, / reading poems in cafés and bars,” develop into something more complicated over the course of Queyras’s career, as her work tracks, in Wunker’s estimation, “an evolving concern with gender, genre, and the potentially unsustainable future towards which forms and bodies are throttling.”

This evolution is made evident by the poems from Queyras’s fifth and most recent collection, M x T. “Alternate Mourning” contains a wave diagram; it postulates, tongue-in-cheek, a scientific method for transmitting grief: “Far from being an unstable conduit for grief, AM allows for greater depth of feeling to flow more efficiently over greater distances.” “Sylvia Plath’s Elegy for Sylvia Plath” can be read not only as a feminist critique, but also a treatise on the inadequacy of artistic representations of the actual.

It’s difficult to represent a poet of such multifarious methods as Queyras in so small a selection, but Wunker has made a fair attempt. I worry, though, that by making too much of Queyras’s “ex-centrique” status in Canadian letters, she is inadvertently relegating her to its margins. Queyras’s work is, in fact, central to an understanding of the 21st-century’s ongoing dialogue on the plurality of humanity.