Rebecca Salazar discusses the entanglement of environment and bodies within her poetry

Book opened on white surface

On Feb. 15, Canadian poet Rebecca Salazar visited the Canadian Writers in Person series at York to read from and talk about her poetry collection sulphurtongue. York University teaching assistant Dana Patrascu-Kingsley sent the following report to YFile.

sulphurtongue book cover
Cover of sulphurtongue

Rebecca Salazar’s poetry collection sulphurtongue contains over 10 years of poems through which the poet said that her younger self processed “how to be in good relation with the damaged world, how to be in good relation through the traumas of colonialism, racism, rape culture, cis-hetero-patriarchy. To speak honestly, the more I write and learn, the less I can really name these oppressions as separate entities.”

In sulphurtongue, Salazar ponders on what it means to be in good relation with the land, with Indigenous peoples, with other people, with everything in our environments. “One answer might be not to romanticize or to objectify or other,” said Salazar. “In my experience, this means not writing capital ‘N’ nature poetry, where nature is this sort of object we place outside ourselves and then strip-mine for metaphors.”

She says poetry is about “understanding how violence done to one component of an ecosystem affects all the bodies within it. It’s about knowing how this mutuality applies to violence but also to care… When I write poetry about the environment, I’m writing about how its many bodies and beings are entangled in my own body and vice versa.”

Salazar adds writing poetry is “how I connect with the ancestors I was displaced from by migrations and colonialism, it’s how I connect with the toxic and benevolent substances that shape my body and its pleasures. It’s how I connect with survivors of sexual, gendered, racialized and ableist violence, even when we’re sued into silence or otherwise prevented from reaching one another. When I write about the ecologies and bodies that I’ve mentioned so far, I want the ‘both/and’: I want both the acknowledgement of ecological harm and racial harm, and the possibility of love within these. I want both the fight against racial and ecological injustice, and the fight to ensure conditions healing for.”