We're ever so pleased to present another round of Quatrain Questions with Sarah Ens reflecting on her recent ReLit Award win and other exciting developments.
Congratulations on your recent ReLit Award win for your most recent poetry book, Flyway, your gorgeous long poem which has already found itself on a few other shortlists throughout the year. What were your first thoughts when you heard the news?
I woke up, rolled over, checked my phone, and flipped out. It’s such an honour and thrill to be read, to hear from people who have connected with this work. To have the book recognized with an award—my first thoughts were all gratitude. I’m especially thankful to the ReLit Awards for all they’ve done to champion small-press writers and publishers over the years. I didn’t realize at first that the ReLit prize comes with a super cool ring I get to keep so I’m also eagerly awaiting getting that in the mail.
The story behind Flyway was also recently mounted as a stage play. What was the process like to again engage with the materials, but with a theatrical stage performance in mind?
My dad came up with this idea that we should write a one-act play together based on my Oma’s story back in 2017, so the script actually came before the poetry. Working with him, going over our family’s records and hearing his own retellings and recollections, gave me new access points into what for me was a foundational piece of family lore. It also gave me permission to try writing from my Oma’s perspective. Three monologues structure the play—one from my Oma, one from my great-Oma, and one from my great-aunt—and I think writing these monologues helped attune me to the voices in Flyway, especially the “Flight” section.
A draft of the play sat on our computers for a few years. I completed my MFA, wrote and published Flyway, and then my dad suggested we revise our script and submit it to the Winnipeg Mennonite Theatre playwriting competition. The script won third place and is now being performed at MennoFest 2.0, so it’s a full-circle experience.
What do you see as the next step for your poetic practice?
I’m reading a lot right now. Writing Flyway required this really long, focussed, almost obsessive look at a set of questions, a specific story, and now that I’ve surfaced from that project, I’m struggling to pursue a sustained writing practice. But I’m trusting that reading will fill the well—it has before!
My friend Jami Reimer, a sound artist and composer, and I are also working on adapting Flyway into a sound installation. We spent a few weeks in the spring and fall of this year recording grassland birds with this incredible parabolic microphone. I’m excited by what that kind of listening taught me about attention and expression.
Who are your poetic inspirations?
These days I’m spending a lot of time with poets like: Jan Zwicky, June Jordan, Louise Glück, M Travis Lane, Joy Harjo, Jane Hirshfield, Kim Addonizio, Nikki Giovanni, Wendy Cope. Basically legendary ladies born between 1930 and 1955.
This Meditation on the impact of human and ecological trauma explores the cost of survival for three generations of women living between empires. Writing from within the disappearing tallgrass prairie, Sarah Ens follows connections between the Russian Mennonite diaspora and the disrupted migratory patterns of grassland birds. Drawing on family history, eco-poetics, and the rich tradition of the Canadian long poem, Flyway migrates along pathways of geography and the heart to grapple with complexities of home.
Awards and Honours
• Winner: 2023 ReLit Award for Poetry
• Shortlisted: Margaret McWilliams Award for Popular History
• Shortlisted: McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award
Also by Sarah Ens:
In this shining debut, identity and community converge in poems for a modern generation. Beginning with the open prairie skies of her youth, Sarah Ens maps an emergence into millennial womanhood, questioning feminine expectations and examining heartache and disembodiment during an age of personal and planetary upheaval. The World Is Mostly Sky looks backwards and inwards to find respite in stars, warm earth, and deep waters while rejoicing in the sacred bonds of sisterhood that offer the courage to meet our uncertain horizon.
• Winner of the 2021 Word Guild Award- General Market Non-Fiction - Specialty Book
• Shortlisted for the 2021 Word Guild Award - Best Book Cover Award
• Shortlisted for the 2021 McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award
• Shortlisted for the 2022 Lansdowne Prize for Poetry/Prix Lansdowne de poésie