Pierce, from Sable River, Nova Scotia, officially launched Vox Humana in Cape Breton on Wednesday, November 25, at the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design, Charlotte Street, Sydney. Over two dozen people attended, braving the first snowstorm of the season, to enjoy hearing Pierce read from her work and purchase signed copies of her book.
It was her third reading in Nova Scotia to promote the book with appearances in Halifax and Sydney earlier this month. With its well-lit space full of beautifully made local crafts and art pieces, the Centre for Craft and Design was an ideal space to listen Pierce’s evocative verse.
Pierce’s work has won awards from a number of literary publications, such as The Fiddlehead, Arc, and Best Canadian Poetry, 2008 (Tightrope Books), and been published in anthologies and literary journals, most recently in Undercurrents: New Voices in Canadian Poetry, edited by Robyn Sarah.
She also taught playwriting for several years at Cape Breton University, and presently leads a poetry writing workshop every Thursday evening at the Centre for Craft and Design.
Brick Books of Toronto is the book’s publisher, the same firm that publishes Margaret Avison, Michael Crummey, Don Domansk (of Whitney Pier), and Michael Ondaatje, among many other prominent Canadian poets, many of them Governor-General’s award winners.
“Brick lets you hone and hone and hone,” Pierce says about working with her publisher. “They do seven books a year and only poetry. It was accepted in September 2009 and you know then it will be published in two years. Back and forth with the editor, and then the copy editor-‘why are there italics all through the book, Alex?’-and then the proofreading editor.”
About the poems in Vox Humana, Pierce says, “Voice links them, always a voice is speaking to you; the voice of the landscape, the voice of the young girl in the landscape.”
She says the poems also reference characters and mythological figures like Cassandra, Athena, Persephone, Ophelia, and the soldier who tries to rescue the Tsar’s daughter Anastasia during the Russian Revolution.
“The characters are really real to me and giving them a voice seemed natural; speaking through the mask seemed natural. And the young girl, who is really me, was one more mask to speak through.”
As she tells her students, “It takes layers and layers of time of paying attention to what you put on the page. That’s the craft. And you also have to be willing to be surprised.”