Spotlight series #74 : nina jane drystek

rob mclennan
4 min readJun 6, 2022

Curated by Canadian writer, editor and publisher rob mclennan, the “spotlight” series appears the first Monday of every month.

STATEMENT : poetry is like swallowing the whole world and pulling it back out piece by piece.

when i was a kid growing up in Ottawa my parents took me to see the changing of the guard on parliament hill several times. as the guards changed the band would beat away on huge drums. sitting grass, i could feel each beat in my chest. if i opened my mouth i could feel them reverberating deeper through me. i would sit there opening and closing my mouth.

this was probably my first realization that sound changes us–whether it is music, a car engine, the birds or the wind. and the sound of a poem can change the listener.

i came to poetry through music. i started off really wanting to tell a story and the sound came second, but the more i write the more the sound of a poem plays an increasingly important part in my work. this has become especially prominent in my current work because i think of it as the root.

i have always had a deep appreciation for poetry readings, something different happens to the poem, to me as the listener, when the poem is read aloud. when we make sounds we communicate more than we say. words and meaning are transformed through the mouth when read aloud. they are transformed again as they take shape in the world.

when we write poems we are changing the world. a word written on the page is absorbed by the paper, or the code of the digital page. words read are absorbed into the body through the mind.

i write poetry because it helps me make sense of the world. i string together fragments to create another perspective. when stringing these fragments, i tend to use sound to make sense. these days, i prefer to play to the senses over the sentimental. sometimes the string is lyrical and other times it is abstract. sometimes it’s concrete others it’s a score for reading. or it is both and many things.

poetry helps me feel the world in my body. i hope it also makes other bodies feel something. i hope they read these poems out loud and let them out into the world.


until the pop. until the rinse.
matte black on white, dim night light
sweet beeswax smells honey bubbling.
there is no room for insecurities, uncertain-
ties. air makes waves frothing
shoulders sink to waves of hair
strands hold soap, soap holds strands
fingers destrangle absent tangles.
viscous knots long the curl to hold
until it succumbs to glistening.
how grave this mounting white rainbow
density. simile river simile snow.
in the dark call it mountain. solidity
is only one facet of the temporary.
i have guided my legs and they have given
way. do you watch me? dead eye in screen.
i don’t ask but seek out other answers.
vibration of air through water hums. creak
of floorbeam in gasping wind. quality
of slick that glows in angles. quantity
of water that hollow holds. i know
this nook. i take my breath and slip under
in a vessel like this i count seconds. water
in my mind. i am the vessel. skip. everything is
dull. slip. i do not hear my sister knocking,
her heart racing. sip. there are only the voices
from the dull screen glow. blip. only slow
certainty. my buoyant body’s ability
to retain air & be changed by it. who is outside
doesn’t know. emergent calmness
subdued panic. assurant air pockets of life.
until the voice in the doorway. until arched back.
hands moving. until the pop. until the rinse.

nina jane drystek is a poet, writer and performer based in Ottawa, unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe territory. she is author of knewro suite (Simulacrum Press, 2019) and a : of : in (Gap Riot Press, 2021) and was shortlisted for the 2020 Bronwen Wallace Emerging Writers Award for Poetry. her poems have appeared in several online and print magazine, as well as in self-published chapbooks and broadsides and her sound poetry can be heard on bandcamp. nina jane is one of the co-founders of Riverbed Reading Series, writes collaborative poetry with VII — authors of holy disorder of being (Gap Riot, 2022) and Towers (Collusion Books, 2021) — and performs sound poetry with a rotating group of collaborators. if you have ever lived in the same city as her you have likely seen her riding a red or blue bicycle.