WINNER OF THE 2018 bpNICHOL CHAPBOOK AWARD: Chuqiao Yang, Reunions in the Year of the Sheep (Baseline Press)

The winner of the 2018 bpNichol Chapbook Award was announced at the annual Meet the Presses Indie Literary Market on November 17th in Toronto.

Judges Gillian Sze and Billy-Ray Belcourt selected:

Chuqiao Yang: Reunions in the Year of the Sheep (Baseline Press)

$4,000 was awarded to Chuqiao Yang as the author of the winning chapbook (thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor) and $500 was awarded to Karen Schindler as the publisher of Baseline Press (thanks to the generosity of writers Jim Smith and Brian Dedora.)

The judges’ citation:

Chuqiao Yang’s Reunions in the Year of the Sheep boasts a voice that astonishes and shines with wisdom and intimacy. In this collection of lyric poems, Yang’s speakers struggle with the old culture and the new, duty and independence, familial expectation and self-determination. Her language leaps effortlessly between Chinese culture, classical mythology, and personal history. Anything can happen in these poems and nothing is out of bounds. Yang’s voice soars confidently and – to borrow the poet’s words – is ever “ready to catch the sky in wingtips and shadow.”

Chuqiao Yang gave a remarkable speech. Here it is:

Thank you so much for being here today.

I am humbled to be accepting this award in honour of bpNichol, who was an exceptional, touching and inventive writer and who, I am told, was also an incredibly kind and compassionate friend and human being. Thank you to the Meet the Presses Collective and the jurors, Gillian Sze and Billy-Ray Belcourt for reading my work and the work of my wonderful peers, Hollie Adams, Jake Byrne, Elee Kraljii Gardner and Canisia Lubrin. Thank you also to the editors and founders of all of the respective publishing houses involved in this process for your celebration of, and commitment to, the ongoing flourishment of a more diverse Canadian literary community. 

I have only endless gratitude and thanks for Karen Schindler of Baseline Press for taking a chance on me. Karen, if it was not for your beautiful attention to detail and your infinite amount of commitment and patience, I would not be here today. I will be eternally grateful for the artistic freedom and kindness you gifted me during this process and for the opportunities that have since opened up to me following the publication of Reunions in the Year of the Sheep.

Thank you to my mentor, Sylvia Legris for reading my work and for showing me what it means to love learning about poetry and language in general. She is a constant reminder and inspiration for what a poet can and should be. 

I’d like to also extend my thanks to the London and Ontario Arts Councils for their support of my work.   

In Chinese culture, your zodiac sign comes every 12 years. Your zodiac year is referred to as your “ben ming nian” in Mandarin. Based on the superstition, it’s a year of bad luck for you, a really intense year of significant change that tests your resilience. So, while other people born under different zodiac years are thriving during your ben ming nian, you may not be as much.

I was born in the Year of the Sheep. Traditionally sheep are not known for being leaders. We are known for being mild, timid, flippant, and frankly, we are often referred to as complacent followers. Growing up, I’d hear that a lot. It was the Year of the Sheep in 2015. The poems in Reunions in the Year of the Sheep were written during that time.

From what I’ve described, you can probably guess that the inspiration behind a lot of these poems came from a dark place.  2015 was the first time that I was forced to confront my complacency with respect to enforcing stereotypes about my identity as a Chinese-Canadian woman. Up until 2015, I bled into the narrative that was prescribed to me about my race and the limitations with respect to my capabilities. I didn’t really realize that until that point, a lot of the racism and sexism I endured led me to see myself as smaller than I really am.  I am still processing that.

The shame, guilt, imposter-syndrome and sense of worthlessness that came with that realization and the realization that a lot of the things I was doing at the time came from not really knowing who I was, led to very self-destructive, and self-hating period in my life. Reunions in the Year of the Sheep was an attempt to honestly examine where I came from and how I got there. From Beijing to Saskatoon to Ottawa to Windsor to Toronto. From being an awkward but happy kid to becoming an egotistical and pretty emotionally volatile teenager to finally entering some semblance of stability in my adulthood. This collection was a process of self-forgiveness and acceptance directed at the person I was, the person I am, and the person that I was becoming.

It was an endless series of thank yous, and I love yous to my friends, who were suffering or celebrating, or just existing and doing their best, with me. 

It was an extension and severance of my filial piety. My family is really the heart of everything I do and also the heart of everything that I must not necessarily be.

It was a reunion, in that I was trying to reconnect with people like my grandmother, who is also born in the Year of the Sheep.

It was also an apology and peace offering to everyone I at some point or the other said was dead to me. 

I’ll close by thanking my friends, my family, and my partner. You have all given me so much joy and love which has helped me move past the experiences that came with this collection. Thank you. 

Chuqiao (Teresa) Yang

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More information: the Meet the Presses Collective
www.meetthepresses.wordpress.com • 2meetthepresses@gmail.com

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