“I would say a poetry book is like a pet. You just have to get to know it.” / Q&A with poet Niki Koulouris

I discovered Niki Koulouris‘ collection of poetry titled The sea with no one in it a little while ago in a “new releases” section. After reading it, I loved it posted a review. The traffic to that review has been steady for the last few weeks. I am glad to post this Q&A with her for those who are eager to know more about her and her work. 
1) The sea with no one in it is your first collection of poetry to be published. Has it been well-received by readers so far?
A: Thanks for your interest in The sea with no one in it Steven! 
I do get a big buzz when readers and reviewers whom I don’t know like it. There have been a couple of reviews that were, on the whole, positive. One was one by Emily Davidson in the Telegraph-Journal, a New Brunswick paper. The other was a review by Georgia Kreiger in Split Lip, an online journal from the U.S. I thought it was an intelligent review and I enjoyed reading it because it even taught me something about my own work. I was also interviewed for that issue (April/June) by chief editor, J. Scott Bugher. So I’m grateful to those reviewers, and to you of course, for noticing the book since it was launched in March! 
Readings seem to bring the words to life and I’ve received enthusiastic responses then. A few people have approached me after readings and said that they want to review The sea with no one in it for Canadian journals. It’s on a review list in the Australian Cordite Poetry Review and Tarpaulin Sky for the U.S. I do hope someone picks it up for those magazines. Anyone who wants to review it can also be in touch via The Porcupine’s Quill. Here’s the link: http://porcupinesquill.ca/bookinfo3.php?index=289
I think the toughest thing for a writer is knowing that readers will have all sorts of reactions to a book. The sea with no one in it became, on a certain level, about the writing process. Within the work there are motifs of masts, spires and clansmen that may represent the anonymous reader. So the question is whether this anonymous entity, the reader/critic, will end up being the spire of worship or the spire that wounds the author with what feels like the violence of the Klan. 
2) Why do you use poetry to write? Have you ever tried any other forms of writing to express yourself?
A: I write poetry because it’s the biggest challenge. When I read work I enjoy it seems like the final word and that nothing more can be said or written about a particular subject. So really I’m trying to do the impossible. I’ve been trying to do it for so long I’ve simply forgotten to give up.
I’ve studied screenwriting, short story and non-fiction and, while I enjoy reading all writing, I find the process of writing poetry the most fulfilling. It’s all-consuming so there’s not much time left to write anything else. 
3) Who are some other writers that you admire? What are you currently reading right now?
A: I admire so many writers, including Richard Wilbur, William E. Stafford, May Swenson, Marina Tsvetaeva, Anne Sexton, Wallace Stevens and Hart Crane. Mavis Gallant is another fabulous writer who recently died – a Canadian writer of short stories. She is underrated in my opinion. Sad to hear about the death of Maya Angelou, so I am reading more of her work right now. It’s led me to revisit indigenous Australian poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal. Two women who made sure they were heard. 
I noticed you recently reviewed Steven Price’s Omens in the Year of the Ox. (Link to my review) I bought his book at a reading late last year and really enjoyed reading it recently. Great to see a young Canadian writer influenced by Gerald Manley Hopkins. 
4) Have you done any public readings for any of your work? If yes, what was that experience like for you?
A: Since launching The sea with no one in it in March I’ve had a handful of readings. I feel it’s important to acknowledge at least some of the people who put the series together for their hard work! Hopefully I’ll get this right. So far I’ve read in Toronto at the Art Bar (Rocco de Giacomo), Plasticine (Michael Fraser), Words Out Loud (Sandra Cardinal), The Best Originals (Norman Cristofoli and Tim Maxwell) and at Ben McNally Books for National Poetry Month (Christen Thomas) and on Nik Beat’s HOWL on CIUT 89.5 FM. I also read at The Poetry Jam in Niagara Falls (Jordan Fry and Priscilla Brett). 
Next up, in June, is the Niagara Literary Arts Festival and Mindi St. Armand’s Blue Coffee series. Then on October 25, the Poetry Salon at Urban Gallery in Toronto (Brenda Clews). Hopefully I’ll also be reading at the Alden Nowlan Festival in Fredricton, N.B. in October (Ross Leckie). In 2015, I’ll be reading in B.C. at Spoken Ink in Burnaby on April 21 (Kelly Dycavinu), Wordstorm in Nanaimo on April 28 (David Fraser) and at Planet Earth Poetry in Victoria on May 1 (Yvonne Blomer). 
Readings are great for immediate feedback and I’ve really enjoyed them. It’s fun interacting with an audience. I’ve been reading from The sea with no one in it and I look forward to reading new poems as they come up. 
5) Your bios. list you as being a ‘Canadian-Australian poet of Greek decent.’ Could you talk a little bit of your background? Were there any influences from you life that inspired you to write?
A: I grew up in Melbourne. I lived and went to school mostly near the beach. I’ve lived in Toronto for the best part of 8 years. When I just became a teenager I sojourned in Greece, for a year and a half, where I went to a U.S. and English schools. I’ve found it’s easier to write about the exotic. So the Northern Hemisphere is very exotic to me. The longer I spend away from Australia the easier it becomes to write about. I hope the poems transmit a sense of the exotic. I studied Fine Art for a time — painting and printmaking. I love the exotic worlds artists create for us. 
6) I recently met a poet who lamented that many people are disappointed that her work “doesn’t rhyme.” Do you find that poetry has a stereotypical image that may be keeping readers away?
A: People have a lot of different expectations of poetry. I think many readers give up because they are afraid they won’t understand something they are not used to reading. However I would say a poetry book is like a pet. You just have to get to know it. The more poetry you read the more you learn about it. Go to any reading series and you’ll find there’s a community supportive of all genres. People forget they listen to poetry all the time – it’s in advertising and lyrics. The form lends itself to this Age of Information Overload because it can be read in short bursts. 
7) Are you working on anything new right now?
A: Yes but I’m not sure what it is yet! However I recently collaborated with artist Eleanor Edgeworth for the magazine The Light Ekphrastic edited by Jenny O’Grady. I wrote a new poem based on one of Eleanor’s works and Eleanor made a new work based on one of my poems.  Here is the link: http://thelightekphrastic.com/koulourisedgeworth/
8) There are a lot of people who seem to be writing poetry right now just for their own personal enjoyment. Do you have any advice for people who are doing that task right now?
A: That’s why I write it too. I would not do it otherwise. That’s the most important reason. If you want to share it, share it. If you want to make it the best work you can do, make sure your own poem fascinates you. If it doesn’t, it won’t fascinate anyone else. Learn to become a good judge of your own work. Read lots of different poetry. Try to get away with as much as you can! 
9) You seem to do quite a bit of traveling. Are you planning any exciting trips in the future? Does traveling help your writing in any way?
A: I love to travel when I get the chance. I find it easier to write about new places and experiences. I hope to see more of Canada when I read in Nanaimo, Victoria and Burnaby B.C. next spring (2015) and hopefully more of New Brunswick this autumn. I take any opportunity I can get to travel! 
10) Your presence on the internet seems to be limited to Facebook. Does the internet play any role in helping or hindering your writing?
A: A poet’s main job is to know which distractions are important. Facebook, like anything, has advantages and disadvantages. The internet can be a good promotional tool for a writer. I hope to get a website up soon and get more active. Maybe I’ll blog from time to time. I’d like to do so much more but poetry has to take precedence. 

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