SFU Special Collections hosts Eve Joseph for a charming afternoon of poetry

The acclaimed poet shared her wonderful poems and personal insights on the relationship between art and death

Joseph’s latest book of poetry, Quarrels, won the 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize. Image courtesy of Anvil Press.

By: Lubaba Mahmud, Staff Writer

My mother always says that the mark of a truly great person lies in their humility. When I attended a reading by award-winning writer Eve Joseph a couple weeks ago, my mother’s words echoed in my mind. On October 24, Joseph graced us with her presence in the W.A.C. Bennett Library’s Special Collections section. 

Books written by Joseph include Quarrels, which was awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize this year, as well as The Startled Heart and The Secret Signature of Things, which were both nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Her memoir In The Slender Margin won the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize.

During the event, she read excerpts from all of her books as her audience listened with awe and admiration for her elegantly penned words.

She began her readings by declaring that “it’s not really a poet standing next to you it’s a failed actress,” and shared that she used to be in an improvisational theatre group. Joseph echoed the theme of uncovering the beauty in failure by reading her poem which, funnily enough, is about poems she doesn’t write.

Some brilliant lines include: “These ones know that the brain is only a photographer, intricately mapping what the mind explores” and “The poems I don’t write tire easily of metaphor.” Furthermore, she compared unwritten poems to actors with stage fright, who “dread the moment the curtains open, fearing no words will come, or if they do, [that] they belong to someone else.” She did an outstanding job of capturing the essence of stubborn poems that don’t want to be written, and amazed her audience with a clever piece of poetry.

Next, Joseph moved on to In The Slender Margin, which she described as a long meditation about death. She shared that she worked in a hospice for 21 years and faced a personal tragedy when her brother died at a young age. Joseph explained that her memories of her brother were fleeting, but it was heart-wrenching nevertheless. She found him again through writing this memoir.

Thinking back to the time when she discovered that her brother’s undergraduate thesis was on poetry, Joseph said, “Astonishing things happen, I think, when you undertake something close to your heart.” Contemplating the question of why we make art about death, she said that it’s about “the idea that art frees us from the literal. Art is the imagination’s take on death.”

She candidly expressed her interpretations and musings about death. It was a deeply personal, lyrical, and incredibly thoughtful account of one’s experience of coping with a loved one’s demise. As I recalled a similar experience I had, a strange sense of familiarity arose within me, as if the emotions were powerful enough to gently bind us — the author and the reader, together in a cocoon of mourning.

I would assume that the effortless connection I felt with Eve Joseph’s words is what most writers aim for. Little did she know that when she talked about unique writers and how to identify them, she was articulating exactly how I felt about her in that moment: “Writers show me things I didn’t know before. More than that, it’s when you find a writer and you recognize something you’ve always known, but didn’t [really] know it — those are the kinds of writers that become a part of you.”