Storm Drains – Ellen Chang-Richardson

As part of Red Alder Review‘s Open Mic series – a Q&A and poem from Ellen Chang-Richardson.


Red Alder Review (RA): How do you normally connect to the poetry/literary community? 

Ellen Chang-Richardson (ECR): Through Twitter, Little Birds Poetry – a series of in-person editing workshops I founded in June last year, and literary events in both my cities of Ottawa & Toronto.

RA: What is the most memorable poetry event or Open Mic you attended in-person? 

ECR: My first poetry event, which was coincidentally my first open mic too.
It was April 30, 2019 and ArtBar Poetry Series was hosting a specially curated reading in celebration of Asian Heritage Month (May). I met Terry Trowbridge, Hana Shafi and curator, Puneet Dutt. I listened to the incredible work of featured readers Manahil Bandukwala, Phoebe Wang and Chuqiao Yang. I stood up there on the open mic stage and stuck myself into all of their lives.  

RA: Who are the poets who most influence you? 

ECR: When I first started reading poetry: John Donne, Sappho, T.S. Eliot, Tristan Tzara, Christian Bök, Anne Carson and Billy-Ray Belcourt. Recently: still Christian Bök, Anne Carson and Billy-Ray Belcourt, but also Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Sara Peters and a wealth of my contemporaries.

RA: Whose work are you most excited about reading in the months to come? 

ECR: Doyali Islam, David Ly, and Erin Brubacher & Christine Brubaker’s.
I finally received my copies of heft, Mythical Man and 7th cousins an automythography!

RA: How has the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic affected your writing practice? 

ECR: COVID-19 put a full stop to my visits to the National Gallery of Canada and their Library & Archives. I can no longer go up there to research topics/artists related to my working project or explore/spend time in their exhibition halls. I’m lucky that I can access online resources such as JSTOR, The New Yorker, and Canadian Art!

In other aspects though, the pandemic has actually opened up my writing practice to more. As a creative lifeline during a writing slump, six other incredibly talented Ottawa-based poets – Manahil Bandukwala, Conyer Clayton, nina jane drystek, Chris Johnson, Margo LaPierre, Helen Robertson – and I started a collaborative series of poems. We’re out of our respective slumps now but the project has really blossomed into something beautiful and at least for me, it’s still a lifeline for when I’m feeling most down and dejected!

RA: What are you working on right now? 

ECR: A book-length collection of ekphrastic poems about contemporary artists. Also organising a new multidisciplinary performance series with nina jane drystek, called Riverbed. COVID-19 changed the way we are approaching our first event, so stay tuned for more info on that!

RA: Do you have any new work forthcoming (in journals, chapbooks, collections, anthologies, ​etc.​)?

ECR: “Grotto,” the poem that took home the 2019 Vallum Award for Poetry is set to appear in Issue 17:1 of Vallum Contemporary. I am very stoked to finally see it in print!

A few other pieces are forthcoming in Tending the Fire, a new chapbook anthology from the League of Canadian Poets, GUEST – a journal of guest editors – from above/ground press, and more.

The poet dedicates Storm Drains to the thousands of missing and murdered womxn in Canada.

Storm Drains

Rain tips up metal grates 
stamped Property of Hydro One.

I stare—loving the ridges of water, 
they remind me of pale sky. 

We, ripple through sheaths
planted by authorities preaching asphalt
and greed.               Ingrained—

in our blood is to see them as freedom
while we are pressed between mortar and sieve.

Look! my mother writes, sun sets early for winter.
It,   reminds me,   of the water.

Which water I wonder; 
the one that is choked, 
stagnant and grey?

Which water I wonder;
the one that is home to thousands
of womxn, decayed?

Knees bungled; 
I brace—

Rain trips, up metal grates
stamped Storm Drain / Dump No Waste.

Ellen Chang-Richardson is a poet, writer and editor of Taiwanese and Cambodian-Chinese descent. Winner of the 2019 Vallum Award for Poetry, her work has appeared in Ricepaper,, Cypress Press, and more. Author of Unlucky Fours (Anstruther Press, 2020), founder of Little Birds Poetry and cofounder of Riverbed. @ehjchang


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