Three Questions with Jillian Christmas

This week we’re sitting down with Jillian Christmas to discuss her newest collection of poetry, The Gospel of Breaking (Arsenal Pulp Press).

“Congratulations” feels a strong word to use in these times, but we are so delighted and ecstatic about your new release The Gospel of Breaking. Could you tell us a little about this genesis of this project, and the themes at the heart of its poetry?

This book started so long ago it’s hard to pin down its very beginning. It is a collection of experience and unlearning, loss and searching, finding, healing and searching again. It is a celebration of queer love, complicated families, and the acrobatics of the human heart. Some poems reach back over a decade and some are still in their birthday suits, begging to be picked up and held. At some point there was an awareness that none of these poems could exist outside of context, and so I went back further. Dug at my roots for the stories that could lay the path for all the words to come after. I suppose that is where it all starts after all, with a strong woman, with a lesson, with a meal.

David Chariandy has called the collection “courageously tender.” This is a time when empathy and compassion are being tested daily in the realm of crisis and scarcity. What advice can you give to those struggling with the emotional hills and valleys of our communal situation?

David’s words are such a blessing on this book.

I’m not sure about giving feelings advice, but my practice has been: feel them all. I’ve been thinking a lot about the sharp ups and downs that have been contained in this moment, in this one body, the way it speaks to a capacity, an abundance of humanity even in the midst of all of this alone, it names us as deeply connected. What is it they say about grief… that it points to the magnitude of love. That’s what I’m noticing. And it’s a big thing to lean into – the expansiveness of human emotion, (no Sunday stroll) but it is a gift, and it’s not a gift that we always get access to, or that everyone gets in a lifetime, certainly not all at once. There must be some magic in that.

Is there a particular poem you’ve become especially fond of in The Gospel of Breaking? Does it carry a certain amount of significance?

The first poem in the book (a home i can only leave once) sometimes calls to me, even when the pages are closed. It is an unearthing meditation on body, and maybe it is circling in my head now because of how strange it feels to be a body in the world at this moment. Maybe because of the way it demands attention and care to all of the things that this vessel needs and can be. It stretches my own imagining of what I can hold, and it reminds me of the limits of a living thing, while acknowledging the life beyond – the life that is born in connection. It is an invitation to my audience and to myself to know each other and to be known. The poem would not have existed without the prompting of my brilliant editor, Amber Dawn, who as many know, could make you feel seen in a dark room, at night, under an eclipse, in a power outage. How do you thank the universe for a human like that?

Three Questions with… is a Q&A series featuring authors, poets and storytellers from BC’s vibrant literary community.

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Lauren Dembicky