A&S alumna benefits from poetic Hart House experience

March 11, 2020 by Sean McNeely - A&S News

Walk into Hart House and one of the first things to greet you is Faculty of Arts & Science alumna Terese Mason Pierre’s radiant smile.  

Her pearly whites grace the bottom half of a poster under the campaign banner that reads “Hart House For You.” Pierre was flattered to be featured in the campaign. “I felt like a famous person,” she recalls.  

It’s a fitting image considering most of Hart House’s visitors have seen that smile in person.  

“I live here,” jokes Pierre, who graduated from U of T with a bachelor of arts in 2017 but continues to be involved in Hart House committees and activities. As a member of Innis College, she studied bioethics, English and the history and philosophy of science.  

Today, Pierre is an accomplished writer. When she’s not at Hart House, she’s hosting, organizing or participating in readings, panel discussions, literary fairs and book launches.  

She is the poetry editor of Augur Magazine, a Canadian speculative and surrealism literature journal, has volunteered with Shab-e She’r Poetry Night, an open mic series in Toronto showcasing people from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities and religions.  

She also reviews books for Quill & Quire, a magazine that covers Canada’s book and publishing industry, and published her first chapbook of poetry, Surface Area, last November.  

“For poetry, I write most often about romance and terrible boyfriends, nature and the expansiveness of the natural world, the dissonance and occasional cruelty of interpersonal relationships,” she says. “In my nonfiction, I write about my personal experiences with creative writing and its communities, where my place in it is, how I can be better, my anxieties about it.” 

Excerpt from her recent poem, “Grand Habitat Daybook” 

feed that particular strain 
of desire; trace the arch 
of your sole in my lap, 
in purpose—a receptacle, 
a memory of lists 
we live on the third floor, 
watch the street like we 
have grandchildren to protect, 
news to carry in code 
Some parts of the city live 
like the city as a whole doesn’t 
exist. In my childhood, I wished 
for unabated glass, flowers that 
never died, a man seen and 
not heard, loved and not tired 
When I leave, I linger at the door 
like my late mother, biding time, 
reveling in this June, this mating season 

Regardless of the topic or genre, Pierre loves the freedom writing gives — a freedom she first yearned for amid a family home that was focused on the sciences.  

“When I create poems or stories, I'm allowed to do whatever I want,” she says, emphasizing that she aims for purpose in everything she writes.  

“I want to say things that make a positive impact on people's lives, the same attitude I take toward the actions I'd like to perform,” she says. “I want to ensure that what I say is kind, truthful and relevant. Because of my youth and inexperience, I try to limit my speech toward my personal experiences, or fictional creative ones. As for messages I'd like to get across, I think most important is to honour and uplift the work of marginalized peoples; how to refine this message is, I think, where the work comes in.” 

Pierre’s dreams extend beyond being a writer. She has her sights set on becoming a pediatrician with a focus on adolescent health.  

“Adolescence is a really important stage in a person's life that's full of questions, anxieties and a desire for safety and security,” she says. “I'd like to be that friendly doctor who can provide those things.” 

Her interest in medical school led Pierre to the life sciences program in her first year at U of T. “I didn't do any extracurriculars,” she says. “I’d stopped writing. I stopped singing. I stopped all my hobbies. It was all academics, all very stressful, all very anxiety-inducing.” 

At the end of that year, her grades were respectable but not stellar. More importantly, she wasn’t happy. She switched her major to bioethics and added minors in English and the history and the philosophy of science.  

She’s had the best of both worlds since then — diving into short stories and poetry, while exploring important bioethics topics like genetics, abortion, animal rights, and cloning.  

“And my grades skyrocketed,” she says.  

Pierre also got more involved with Hart House. She joined clubs, including a creative writing group, and sat on several committees. She found her voice again, joining two choirs.  

Joining the Hart House Literary and Library Committee helped her gain professional skills that complemented her studies.  

“Working with this committee taught me how to reach out to speakers, write professional emails, make a budget, oversee presentations and moderate panels,” she says. 

Professor Hakob Barseghyan, who taught Pierre at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, isn’t surprised by her writing success.  

“She has a quite unusual conjunction of interests, including history, philosophy, science, medicine and literature,” he says. “And she has an interesting way of combining diverse experiences.” 

With her second chapbook of poetry expected to be published this summer, Pierre continues to be all over Toronto’s literary scene as well as a familiar face at Hart House.  

“I’ve received many opportunities and gained many skills from working at Hart House, and I try to encourage others, especially students, to discover Hart House and how it can help them as it did for me.”