Aspiring writers given a mentor

Writer-in-residence Billeh Nickerson is interested in censorship, publishing and copyright in queer issues

Billeh Nickerson arrived at Queen’s in January and will be here until April.
Billeh Nickerson arrived at Queen’s in January and will be here until April.
Credit: 
Supplied

While the smell of overcooked veggies may not inspire your inner poet, Queen’s writer-in-residence Billeh Nickerson started out reciting his poetry to friends during high school lunch hours spent in the cafeteria.

Nickerson has come a long way since then and is now an important voice in Canadian poetry, with a special focus on queer issues.

Nickerson’s position as Queen’s writer-in-residence—funded through the Canada Council for the Arts—allows him to work with the English, Language and Women’s Studies’ Departments in order to bring writers further into the academic and general community.

“When it comes to books, most people just think about the work itself,” Nickerson said. “We give a face to writers.”

Born in Halifax, Nova Scotia on Valentine’s Day, Nickerson has a BFA in writing from the University of Victoria and an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia. He works as an instructor at Kwantlen University College in Vancouver.

Nickerson’s collection of poems entitled The Asthmatic Glassblower and Other Poems, published in 2000, was nominated for the Publishing Triangle Gay Men’s Poetry Prize for the best poetry collection. In 2002, he published a series of essays entitled Let Me Kiss It Better: Elixirs for the Not so Straight and Narrow.

Nickerson is also co-editor—with poet John Barton—of Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets, the first writing anthology by gay men in Canada.

Beyond his personal work, Nickerson has served as editor, contributing editor, and assistant editor of the literary magazines Event, Geist and Prism International. He is currently a columnist for Xtra! West.

Nickerson said he has always been drawn to writing because it combines isolation and communication.

“I love being able to share … and sort of isolate [myself],” he said. “You’re in charge of your own destiny because you tell your own story… [so] there’s a little bit of privilege.”

Nickerson will be holding office hours throughout the semester, during which time students—or anyone interested—may bring five to six pages of their poetry or prose for him to read.

“I’ll go through their work with them and offer them feedback,” he said.

Outside of his office hours, Nickerson will be working on his next project—a collection of poems about McDonald’s: the reason he is now a vegetarian.

Nickerson said the collection is inspired by his former experiences working at McDonald’s.

“I was a [low-level] McDonald’s manager years and years ago and I never really wrote about it,” he said. “[The collection] isn’t Fast-Food Nation. … [It’s] trying to give a voice to the people behind the counter.”

During his stay here, Nickerson is participating in February’s Exposure Festival—an annual arts event. It will take place from Feb. 4 to 10. On Feb. 8, Nickerson and Lillian Allen—last year’s writer-in-residence—will perform various readings.

Nickerson is interested in issues of censorship, publishing and copyright, and how they pertain to queer issues. He has expressed interested in participating in Pride Week—a March event organized by EQuIP, the Education on Queer Issues Project.

Nickerson will also arrange writing symposiums and bring in Canadian writers to do readings during throughout his stay at Queen’s.

Immersion is the key to successful and enjoyable reading and writing, Nickerson said. “Get together with your friends and read your poetry to each other. And immerse yourselves in reading!” Billeh Nickerson will hold office hours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, or by appointment, in Watson 529.

—With files from Angela Hickman

Upcoming readings on and around campus

Who: Billeh Nickerson
What: Welcome Reception. Nickerson is Queen’s
writer-in-residence.
Where: Lower Ban Righ
dining room
When: Jan. 18 at 2:30 p.m.

Who: Billeh Nickerson, Sheri-D Wilson, Genni Gunn, Elizabeth Bachinsky and Carolyn Smart
What: A symposium of performative readings
Where: Lower Ban Righ dining hall
When: Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m.

Who: Genni Gunn
What: Poetry reading. Gunn is the author of the novels Tracing Iris and Thrice Upon a Time, as well as the poetry collections Mating in Captivity and the recently published, Faceless.
Where: Watson 517
When: Feb. 4 at 2:30 p.m.

Who: Various artists including Billeh Nickerson and Lillian Allen.
What: Exposure Festival. for more information, please visit myams.org/cac/exposure/calendar
Where: The Grad Club
When: Feb. 8, Time TBA

Who: Chris Turner
What: Poetry reading. Turner is the author of Planet Simpson and more recently The Geography of Hope.
Where: The Wilson Room of the Kingston Public Library
When: Feb. 14 at 7 p.m.

Who: A bevy of guests including Shelagh Rogers, Lorna Crozier, Sue Goyette and Michael Crummey
What: Common Magic: The Legacy of Bronwen Wallace Conference
Where: Around Queen’s campus. For an itinerary and further details, visit queensu.ca/wmns/commonmagic.html
When: March 7 to 9, tickets on sale now

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