This Side of West Interviews Eva Haas
Interviewed by TSOW 2021-2022 CNF Editor, Julya van der Sloot.
Eva Haas is a writer and poet from St. John’s, Newfoundland. She has been published before in her home province, but this is her first as a student at UVic. She has been writing and scribbling for as long as she can remember.
Eva Haas grew up on the coast of Newfoundland, her home a twenty-minute commute to the ocean that inspired her prize-winning poem, Birth of Aphrodite (reprise), published in Issue 20 of This Side of West. It was moving from coast-to-coast in fall of 2021, however, that catalyzed this poem into reality. “The coast is really important to me. I don’t think I could leave the ocean behind,” she tells me, her sunny smile faltering only momentarily in these moments of deep reflection.
Birth of Aphrodite (reprise) was inspired by the painting Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. It depicts Venus, goddess of love and beauty, arriving on the island of Cyprus in a giant scallop shell, a born pearl. She holds her long hair across her body as if to cover herself, while the winds of Zephyr and Aura pass her in her deity off to a young woman clothed in flowers, sometimes interpreted to be the Hora of spring.
“I Googled afterwards and discovered that I had the title wrong. But yeah, it’s that piece,” Haas laughs. “It’s a very serene myth, almost—or it’s depicted in the painting as very serene. I was thinking about how the ocean is not always like that, especially where I’m from in Newfoundland. So, I asked, ‘What would happen if [Aphrodite] had been born on the coast of Newfoundland?’”
In Haas’ interpretation, Aphrodite arrives on stone that has been chewed up by the sea, subjected to the violence and loneliness of the coastal tides. The ocean hazes her, forces her to cut off her hair, gives her witnesses and circumstantial evidence. Finally, in the last moment of the poem, the ocean gives her “something to put / behind her eyes”—an action that I have so far determined to be loving, hateful, and true all at once. When I ask her about the legal jargon and which of my various readings may be correct, however, she pauses for a moment to think.
“It’s so interesting to hear people talk about it and what they pick up, because when my parents read this, my mom texted me and said, ‘Settle this argument for me. Me and Dad don’t agree on what it means.’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know! It means both.’ I can’t tell you. That’s not something I really thought about. I think it has a lot to do with the things that shape you, because you can’t control them,” Haas tells me. I ask if ambiguity of meaning is something she strives for her in her poetry.
“If you strive for ambiguity, you get an ambiguous poem. For me, when I read this over, I saw what I meant to see in it. And really, it just felt like the magic of poetry to me. I think a lot of authors will have their own interpretation that they feel comes through. I don’t think I strive for it. I find it very flattering, because that’s what is so great about poetry, everybody says. Right? The fact that it’s so open ended. I like that people have taken it, and it is now meaningful in the way that they need it to be meaningful,” Haas tells me. “My mom says that she really loves it because she thinks it’s a feminist piece. I’m like, ‘thanks! Great!’ And I see that; I understand that interpretation. Now that you bring up the legal terms, I’m like, ‘oh, yeah, I know. They’re in there!’ My dad was talking about rebirth and stuff. I was like, ‘okay, sure!’ I don’t strive for it, but it’s great that it happened. It is something to think about because that’s one of the lovely things about poetry.”
Haas and poetry share a love story that started long before Aphrodite’s second birth; for as long as she can remember she has kept a Pinterest board full of poems by her favourite writers (Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda, and Mary Oliver among many others) that she has transcribed and printed over the years into a thick stack of poems. She shows them to me, all within an arm’s reach of her Zoom camera. The pile is massive, unbound, and a symbol of Haas’ undying love for the craft. I can swear that for a moment, I am able to spot the faintest scent of fresh ink coming in through my computer’s dim screen.
“It came to me one day that I if I lost my Pinterest account for some reason, that I’d lose all these poems that I had saved that were really important to me,” Haas tells me. I ask how many poems she has typed up. “Over 200. I could not estimate past that, I don’t think. And it’s always growing. […] I feel like I get a better understanding of the poems as well. Sometimes I read something, and I really respond to it. And I couldn’t tell you what it means, like, at all. I couldn’t even start. So, writing them down, taking that time with them is really good.”
Haas fills her space with poems written by her idols, but when it comes to her own poems, she carries moleskin notebooks with her wherever she goes, writing down poetry whenever inspiration hits. “I love to write by hand. It feels a little more intimate. Once I want [a poem] to start feeling legitimate, I’ll type it up, and then I’ll look at it. And I’m like, ‘Okay, well that looks professional.’ But it can’t be professional in the beginning. It’s got to be a little bit messy,” she tells me.
This endless passion for writing is what keeps Haas grounded when facing rejection. She recalls a submission she made recently which didn’t end up on a shortlist, despite her hopes. “The thing that turned the corner for me there, from being upset to getting back to the desk, was asking myself, ‘Am I upset enough to stop writing? No. So why not now?’ Nothing will make me hate it enough not to do it. But maybe my thirty-year-old self will have something to say about that to my eighteen-year-old self, because I’m going to get an even bigger rejection tomorrow. Who knows,” she jokes.
In just her first year at UVic, Haas has cemented her place in the Victoria writing community with her detailed, vibrant, and unique sense of space and time. In Birth of Aphrodite (reprise) she brings to life a centuries-old-myth with a brand-new flair and edge, and challenges the reader’s notions of serenity, birth, and deity. At eighteen-years-old with a prize-winning poem under her belt, she remains grounded yet ambitious. What’s next for Eva Haas?
“I have been writing since I could hold a pen. I don’t even have an age. This is always where I knew I wanted to go. Just the fact that I’m getting interviewed is awesome. So really, I could say, ‘Oh, just here is fine! Drop me off here, like this.’ But I would like to be able to do it as a career,” she tells me. “I would like to be able to devote my life to writing. I would like to get out of school and be able to go wherever writing wants me to go and have that freedom and that privilege to be able to do my art. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s pretty general, because that will be enough for me, right? Wherever I am.”
Birth of Aphrodite (reprise) was published in Issue 20 of This Side of West.