The Tara Borin Interview

Tara Borin is a graduate of the Writer’s Studio Online with Simon Fraser University. Their poems have appeared in Resistance (University of Regina Press), PRISM International, Prairie Fire, emerge 19 and Best New Poets in Canada 2018 (Quattro Books). They are a queer, non-binary writer living in traditional Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in territory, Dawson City, Yukon. Their debut collection, The Pit, was published in the spring of 2021 by Nightwood Editions.

Set in a small-town, sub-Arctic dive bar, The Pit explores the complexities of addiction and the person beneath, and the possibility of finding home and community in unexpected places. (Our review of The Pit is here.)

The Pit at

In a recent review on his blog, rob mclennan puts the work into context: “Borin’s The Pit stands in solidarity, one might say, with American poet Lea Graham’s From the Hotel Vernon (Co. Clare, Ireland: Salmon Poetry, 2019) [see my review of such here], a collection that wrote similar stories and mythologies around Worcester, Massachusetts’ Hotel Vernon, or even poems from the late Ottawa poet Patrick White’s elegy to the late artist, Benjamin Chee Chee, through The Benjamin Chee Chee Elegies (Burnstown ON: General Store Publishing House, 1992), a collection that wrote poems of Chee Chee, among other locales, at the tavern in Ottawa’s own Gilmour Hotel (a building that sat, formerly, at the north-east corner of the intersection and Bank Street at Gilmour). White’s poems also wrote of the shadows of addiction, something Borin explores repeatedly, such as the poem “DEAREST,” that ends: “I want to take him / home, feed him / anything other / than whisky and beer // but for now / that’s the only medicine / we know.” One could mention, also, Toronto poet Michael Holmes’ suite of prose poems to individual hotels, 21 Hotels (above/ground press, 1998), a collection reprinted in Groundswell: the best of above/ground press, 1993-2003 (Fredericton, NB: Broken Jaw Press, 2003), a collection that focused more on the image of hotels as sites for romantic liasons, both above board and below.”

In her review for Quill & Quire, Sanchari Sur examines the role the bar and its populous plays in Borin’s debut, “The speaker is a local informant to the reader: a white settler who through their long association with the Pit and liminal position as a bartender has become a resident. The Pit is the nexus where desires (queer or otherwise) begin and end, its halls haunted by ghosts. In “Wraith,” a ghost ‘grips your arm / whispers // I can’t find / my room,’ while the metaphorical ‘ghosts of blackouts past’ provide company in “Drunk Tank.” Apart from these ghosts, there are missed connections in “We’ll Never Have Enough of This”: ‘Come talk to me / I’m that girl – / you are beautiful and … // You should dump him / before he dumps you / dingus.’ There’s an unmistakable tenderness in ‘dingus,’ the speaker longing for the woman in question. This desire echoes “Heartbreak Hotel,” where a woman’s ‘life tumbles from the same duffle bag she / arrived with a year ago’ as she yearns for a former lover ‘in a / cheap hotel room.’”

“I don’t think the role of the poet has changed, perhaps just become more urgent.”

How important is mentorship been to your work? Is there anyone who specifically assisted your development as a writer?

Mentorship has been hugely important to my growth as a writer. I didn’t take the traditional MFA route, so the connections, friendships and mentorships I’ve sought out within the community have taught me so much about writing, revising, valuing and protecting my time, self-promotion, etc. I did The Writer’s Studio through Simon Fraser University, and my mentor Kayla Czaga was wonderfully encouraging. I’ve also been lucky to connect with writers in residence at the Berton House here in Dawson City; people like Anakana Schofield, Sarah Mian, Trish Salah, and Elizabeth Ruth have provided me with friendship and guidance on many aspects of the writing life. Joanna Lilley was the first Yukon writer I befriended, and she’s been such a great support. 

What Canadian poetry book did you last read and feel inspired, content and astonished?

Grace Lau’s The Language We Were Never Taught to Speak has inspired me to write more queer poems! 

If you could read only two of your poems to any person living or dead what would those two poems be and who would the person be and why would you choose these two poems? 

I would choose “Romance Capital” and “Enough”, and I would read them to Gord Downie because he was my gateway to poetry. I love the stories within those poems and I think he would, too.

Do you think the role of the poet has changed at all in the last few years as the world faces some of its gravest challenges whether its social or political or environmental?

I don’t think the role of the poet has changed, perhaps just become more urgent. It’s been great to see poets and poetry being elevated in the public eye, from Poet Laureates like Nisha Patel and Jenna Lynn Albert speaking on issues of racism and abortion access respectively, to Amanda Gorman’s performance at Biden’s inauguration. I think poets and poetry are reaching a wider audience these days and that’s a good thing.