Reading Practice: Junie Desil

Interview by Hope Lauterbach

Poet Junie Désil shares her infectious love of books, and not-so-guilty reading pleasures.

[This interview was conducted via email.]

ROOM: What books did you read as a kid?

JD: Oh wow, I mean I read and devoured everything. Often in secret. At home when I was bored my father would tell me to go find a book to read. So one day I was going through this closet that was just a collection of my parents’ stuff, and I found my father’s copies of War and Peace, Animal Farm, and a French novel by de Maupassant. What broadened and solidified my love of reading though was my elementary school librarian. Day 6 was library day and we’d walk down this 80s style mustard brown carpeted ramp into the library. Each two weeks or so we had to switch genres and read from the genre assigned and I was stuck on Sci- fi (Asimov) etc. I basically read everything I could get my hands on.

ROOM: Choose one and explain why: Library or bookstore?

JD: I love them both but libraries are cheaper! I also love the hum of libraries–the activity, people watching, seeing what people pick out to read, and discovering books just by going through the stacks. Libraries are a gathering place of all kinds of people- like a community centre with books. Plus I have fond memories of libraries as a kid growing up in Treaty 1 territories (Winnipeg). I’d go to the Winnipeg Public Library with my two younger brothers and check out 30 books (that was the max). However, between the three of us we would haul out 90 books and just spend our summers reading and returning books.

ROOM: What is your favourite genre to read and why?

JD: Well…depends on where I’m at. For inspiration during stretches of creativity: memoir and poetry. For stressful times and needing escape: terrible, terrible, terrible fantasy. If I have an extreme need for escape, then it’s terrible romance/thriller.  Otherwise I like a good novel, and I’m most likely to read from writers from various diaspora. There is a familiarity to the stories that is comforting.

ROOM: If you had to adapt eat salt | gaze at the ocean to a different literary genre which would you choose?

JD: Probably memoir. Or more memoir-ish. It’s not as if the collection doesn’t have its moments of speaking to my experiences, but it is more oblique than if I’d chosen to just write a memoir. I wasn’t ready and I’m still working out what I put out in the world.

ROOM: What was the last book you bought?

JD: A couple days ago, I just bought jaye simpson’s collection it was never going to be ok. However, I have a bunch of books I have bought in the last two weeks *stressface emoji*, and I just have to find the time to get through my pile.

ROOM: Name three poets who inspire you.

JD: Just three?!

1) Dionne Brand always and forever.

2) MercedesEngCecilyNicholsonHariAlluri (haha see what I did there?!) But wait let me explain–I love that these three write and live in such a  heart-centred way that is reflected in their writing. Mostly it’s how they as poets/writers uplift and cheer others on. Honestly, I’ve been blessed to have these three in my corner.

3) Natalie Diaz–When My Brother Was an Aztec. No words and it’s a collection I read over again, brilliant and visceral. Obviously, I have more, but I squeezed in five!

Junie Désil is a poet. Born of immigrant (Haitian) parents on the Traditional Territories of the Kanien’kehá:ka in the island known as Tiohtià:ke (Montréal). Junie has performed at various literary events and festivals. Her work has appeared in Room Magazine, PRISM International, The Capilano Review, CV2, G U E S T: A Journal of Guest Editors, and,Capitalism Nature Socialism. Junie currently works in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, on the unceded and Ancestral Lands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh. Junie’s debut poetry collection Eat Salt|Gaze at the Ocean (TalonBooks, 2020) is out now.

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