How can poetry set you free?
Can poetry be a safe space? An act of protest? What about both? For our National Poetry Month query, River Halen gets personal about poetry as a way for marginalized ideas to bloom and find their publics:
“I said a version of this elsewhere once, but I think it bears repeating because it’s something I think about a lot. Poems are an ideal container for things that it’s not safe to speak directly, for fear of being understood too well by the wrong people. Queer experiences have been and continue to be documented in poetry in environments where ‘saying it straight’ is dangerous or does an injustice to the nature of the experience. All kinds of non-normative and marginalized experiences find a home in poetry. In this way, lived realities can make it into the archive that the archive meant to erase, and political resistance can gain coherence right under the noses of the ones in charge. It’s a really wild technology.
And then, conversely, sometimes poetry consists of the most plainspoken, direct statement ever. In these cases it’s often because you weren’t supposed to say that thing; it’s against the rules somehow, but saying it breaks something loose. I think about my poems in both of these modes, as little lock boxes of code, and as ostentatious practices of openness, and I often find myself going back and forth between these modes in the same piece.”
– River Halen
River Halen is a non-binary transgender writer of Catalan and Danish descent born in Surrey, BC, on unceded Coast Salish land and now living in Tio’tia:ke (Montreal). Their poems and essays dealing with relation, ecology, transformation, and sexuality have been published widely in Canada, the U.S., Australia, and Japan. They have been shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry and a National Magazine Award, and selected for inclusion in Best Canadian Essays. Their