When Saskatoon poet Sylvia Legris was published in The New Yorker in 2014, she realized that this one appearance could potentially reach more readers than all other publications in her lifetime, combined.
The New Yorker has a 1.4 million-copy print circulation, plus its online readership. “It means more people see your name in passing and, hopefully, more people read your work,” she says. “When you send work to other magazines and your name rings a bell, they take a closer look. Especially if you’re a Canadian submitting to international publications.”
New Directions Publishing in New York not only took a closer look at Legris’ work, but they also published her most recent volumes of poetry, Pneumatic Antiphonal (2013) and The Hideous Hidden (2016). The creation of both works were supported by Saskatchewan Arts Board Independent Artists grants.
Legris, the only Saskatchewan writer who has won the prestigious Griffin Poetry Prize, says her work has had a “problem” for a long time, because it is not easily compartmentalized. “When I was first starting to write, people would say my work wasn’t like anyone else’s. It was meant as a criticism, but now I think it’s a good thing,” she says. “I read very widely and take in all kinds of source material. The stuff that I like to read doesn’t fall into any particular camp, and my work doesn’t either.”
The question that underlies all of Legris’ work is, “How do you create poetry from a body of knowledge that seems fundamentally non-poetic?" The Hideous Hidden, for example, explores the histories of medicine, dissection and anatomy. Her current project, Garden Physic, delves into early plant-based pharmaceuticals. “Exploring that question is an ongoing preoccupation, one that continues to drive my poetry,” she says.
In 2016, she launched The Hideous Hidden with readings in New York, Toronto, Winnipeg and Saskatoon. UK magazines Granta, Prac Crit and The Poetry Review have all shown interest in her work, publishing poetry from The Hideous Hidden as well as new pieces.
Legris is drawn to poetry because of its musicality and attention to language. “I like how elastic poetry can be and how it can incorporate the best parts of language and music. When they’re working as one beautiful machine, it can be a pretty remarkable thing,” she says.
Sylvia Legris received the 2014 Saskatchewan Artist Award at the Lieutenant Governor’s Arts Awards, presented by the Saskatchewan Arts Board.
Sylvia Legris photo courtesy of the artist