There are books that sit on beside my bed or on my shelves that I leave for a while in the middle of reading. They perplex me. Their words are deep and introspective and I am not certain if they are good or bad. I have a hard time when I first start reading them that I decide I need to put them away for a while and review them again when I have a quiet moment. And when those quiet moments do finally come, I pull them out and read them and read them again. Then, in some cases, I find they are worthy of my time. And Kilby Smith-McGregor’s collection of poetry in Kids In Triage is just such a book.
Morphogensis (for Alan Turing) (excerpt) page 50-51
Yet every Cambridge, every set of oxfords raises a fresh god;
everything that is the case against you, the world broken
down to word between wars between words between man
and his mirror, the master. Anti-realist vet vs. Government Code
& Cypher School; Guys vs. Bletchley; dick-measuring sequence:
those high gilt zeroes and one run through to the hilt with logic’s
sharp. These days it’s seamlessness; embedded logic
of razor-blade apples, pills, chips slipped beneath skin to out-god
even the notional autonomic gnomic gnostic mimic – sequenced:
an evolutionary narrative’s lithe tail, forked and broken
over a war’s chair’s back, chained to pipes, to pixel-ratio, time-code
plus today’s paper evidenced in the frame-by-frame of X man
though known (or lost).
I admire writers that can make me think or question something in our society. The craft of sitting down and turning a careful phrase must take time to create. And the time to sit down and read that phrase and ponder it takes time as well. No doubt, Smith-McGregor must have taken time to reflect and write these phrases for her poetry. They are deep, sharp and introspective. And I feel guilty taking my time reading this book, but I wanted to give each phrase careful consideration and reflection. So for the past 5 months, I have read and re-read this book several times when I found myself a few moments solitude. And I found the experience worthwhile.
Chapter II: The Pool of Tears (Excerpt) Page 52
I wish I hadn’t cried so much . . . I shall be punished for it now,
I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears.
-Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
The river of my childhood is the Speed River. Starting near Orton, Ontario, it flows south through the city of Guelph.
Archivists have described it as wide, shallow, rapid, unnavigable – also: a source of power. That seems about right.
The river that runs just beyond the view of my window.The one where I have caught crayfish and cast sticks to watch them whisked away. Living on Rural Route Five
in the lower half of a large split-level which had once been a school, I sit at my small desk by this window drawing a series of trap doors in a green Hilroy notebook.
It is an illustration for the kind of Alice story that consumes a certain span of youth encompassing coming into the world, and is later returned to, looking for a way out.
I wish I hadn’t cried so much.
There is introspection and reflection here, and there is also some ponderings about the human condition. Smith-McGregor notes small items of society and enlarges them for us readers to see. Again, it must have taken time to think about these details and create the perfect phrase to describe her thoughts. But the result is what many readers crave in a good piece of literature.
Red (Excerpt) Page 27
Red is a reflection, a fetish, transgression. Red dresses
a theme of sharp points.
Red eyes: bruised wells, betrayal of the photographer’s flash
I’m sorry but it’s anger.
Red crosses. Even in love.
It is history and injury. The history of injury
I will not go on about wounds, scars protracting the red-white
continuum through time.
This is not a productive conception of time (toward white) –
it is a concession.
Someone else’s idea of healing.
Yes, the apple.
It was a Red Delicious. Even the flesh was red,
blood apple. They write that out of the Bible.
White is an invention of History.
Kilby Smith-McGregor collection of poetry called Kids In Triage is deeply introspection and reflective but is unique and enlightening. Although I felt badly for taking so long to read this book, I am glad I took the time to savour it. It is a read that should not be raced through.
Penn Kemp has been not only been a poet but a cultural icon around my home town of London, Ontario, Canada. Yes, her written words have inspired but her actions in a complex number of fronts have also been a source of enlightenment and engagement for numerous people. It was an honour a few weeks ago when she sent me an advance copy of her new work Barbaric Cultural Practice (Link to my review) but discussing it only seem to capture a bit of this thought-provoking individual. She agreed to answer a few questions for me here, adding a bit more insight into her and her work.
1) What inspired you to first write poetry? You have been involved in other forms of writing (including play writing). Does poetry hold any special traits for you that other writings don’t have?
My grandmothers were grand sources of inspiration. My Strathroy grandmother knew many poems by heart (that delicious phrase!) which she would recite to me in a kind of incantatory lilt. The sound transported me. My little Irish grandmother told me wild tales of legends that sparked my imagination into new realms of possibility, realms beyond my house and yard.
When my brother was born, my mother no longer had all the time in the world to read to me. So I memorized the nursery rhymes I loved. But that wasn’t enough; I wanted more. I tried to make sense of the black squiggles on the page until they slowly, finally, swam into meaning. What a discovery! It was pure magic to go from reading other people’s poems and stories to writing them myself. I would set up my dolls in a line on the couch and perform to this unfailingly attentive audience. Power to the reader! Power to the writer!”
What made me a poet? Curiosity. The thrill of adventure, of new worlds. I began piecing out the words to myself. I remember the thrill of pure magic when a word would leap into focus, into meaning. The black letters would assume a third dimension; they would dance. I could almost hear them speak to me directly. I was hooked. I wrote my first poem when I was six, excited and amazed at having created through apparent magic something out of nothing with marks on a page. I glimpsed a world in which words had a life of their own, just as toys did. I knew that if I could wake at the right time at night I would catch my toys at play. So too, I felt words could be surprised and fixed onto the page. If I listened closely enough, words would well up in my head and emerge as a poem.
Writing that first poem was the first time that I recall consciously feeling that I was doing an adult thing— creating something entirely on my own, assuming independence— growing up! I felt like the Little Red Hen in the nursery story: “‘I can do it myself,’ said The Little Red Hen, and she did.”
2) You recently sent me an advance copy of “Barbaric Cultural Practice.” (Thank you!) How long did it take you to write it? Is there any special hopes you have for the book?
Many of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice have been culled from performance pieces that have been honed over many years and produced on CD/DVD, but not in book form till now. I’m grateful for family and friends’ encouragement en route and ongoing during the evolution of these poems. The list is long and extends back decades.
Poetry needs to be heard as well as read, so I have concentrated in recent years on audio renditions and videopoems in collaboration with Bill Gilliam, John Magyar, Dennis Siren and (always!) Gavin Stairs. How exciting to be able to offer links to video and audio performances of some of these poems through QR codes!
Several of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice were provoked into being by political events; hence, the title. As an aging activist, I confront by words such issues as climate change and overwhelmingly new technologies. The poems juxtapose the stress of urban life as compared to nature’s round. The poems deal, for example, with the effect of computers on our psyche and with the imprint of electronic media upon perception, consciousness and dream life. Barbaric Cultural Practice pays tribute to our dear Mother World’s enchantments as well as her upheavals. Poetry is my response to the unprecedented complexities of our time.
3) (These next questions is one I know draws fear from other writers when I ask it here but I know some of my followers are eager to know an answer from you.) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
I read Canadian poetry and fiction, especially that which our library stocks. Daily, I scan “New Items” from London Library’s website! (Link to that page) Am reading a new edition of Mavis Gallant’s A fairly good time: with green water, green sky as well as Ann Carson’s Red Doc>. Then on to Margaret Christakos’s Her Paraphernalias: on Motherlines, Sex/Blood/Loss & Selfies.
4) I know you have a reading event planned at Oxford Books on Oct. 11 but do you have any other reading events planned? Are public readings something you enjoy?
I do enjoy public readings. It’s a privilege to share the innermost source of poetry when performing. And I love to hear poets read their work: the timbre of voice precisely matches their written word. Once I’ve heard a poet read, that voice echoes in my mind when I next read the work.
Here are some upcoming events where I’ll be reading:
September 3, 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. With musician Bill Gilliam @ 2pm. Vino Rosso Bar & Restaurant. 995 Bay St., Toronto ON M5S 3C4, 416 926-1800.
5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
My forthcoming play, The Triumph of Teresa Harris, originated in a short piece for London’s PlayWrights Cabaret at McManus Theatre in 2013. Then it was produced as an hour-long processional play at Eldon House Museum, with one actor and two musicians (co-artistic directors of Light of East Ensemble). More information about the original production, The Dream Life of Teresa Harris is up on https://teresaharrisdreamlife.wordpress.com/. There too are some reviews from the show. I am developing the play into a full length piece with ten or more characters for production at London’s Palace Theatre in March, 2017. The original musicians are participating in the play again.
Teresa Harris was born in 1839 at Eldon House and died in 1928 in England. She tells her amazing life story from her home here. Born the youngest of a prosperous pioneer family intent on bettering itself, Teresa married a Scottish military man who promised to carry her off to foreign parts she had dreamed of all her life, sickly though she had always been. Teresa’s story emerges through her own voice and that of her protective mother and her two husbands. Research reveals that Teresa and her second husband St. George Littledale were the greatest English explorers of their period, travelling further into Asia than any Westerner had.
Hers is an historical life as mediated through my imagination. My visits to beautiful Eldon House brought the era alive. It was easy to write from Teresa’s perspective since I identified with her and admired her adventurous spirit. It was fun to imagine her desire to escape the strictures of family convention for more exotic locales. Having been raised in London in the Fifties, I felt the town hadn’t changed all that much from the colonial outpost it had been in Victorian times. It was still very Anglo and class-conscious, patterned upon London, England like a pale shadow of the Mother Country. At twenty-one, I too couldn’t wait to escape, to travel the world! And I did. I was also happy to return to settle comfortably back in the house I grew up in after forty years away from London.
6) You seem to be active on both Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those platforms in relation to your writing? Does your WordPress blog site also work well for your writing?
The platforms are a necessity for a working writer to spread the word… and sometimes they are an escape from writing: fun, as well! The virtual communities are engaging: who could have imagined being able to keep in touch with so many people at once. And folks can promote various causes on my (Facebook) group, Support and Promote Canadian Arts and Cultures.
7) You have travelled around the world and still call the London, Ontario, Canada area your home. How do you like living here?
See #5. Yes, London is home. I was born in Strathroy and raised in London. I belong here.
Are there cultural institutions here that you consider unique that inspire your writing? If yes, what are they?
As the City of London’s first Poet Laureate and as writer-in-residence for Creative Aging London, I was very involved in different aspects of the community. Several occasions prompted poems. Other poems were commissioned by groups such as ReForest London.
Western U. gave me a great grounding in literature as a student there. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed teaching classes in Continuing Ed., and as Writer-in-Residence, and hosting a radio show, Gathering Voices, at CHRW. (Link to CHRW’s webpage for “Gathering Voices”)
This fall, I will be working on aspects of the play, including publicity and marketing, with students from Western in the course, Canadian Literature, Creativity, and the Local, with a Community Engaged Learning component. Working with me in this applied learning opportunity, the students will cultivate links with Eldon House and The Palace as part of the project. (Link to the course outline from Western University’s online calendar)
I first became involved in publishing when a local publishing house, Applegarth Follies, asked me to be their poetry editor in 1977. (Josiah Applegarth was London’s first settler). While I edited Twelfth Key, the famous Brick Magazine was published alongside. Another offshoot of Applegarth was Brick Books, still publishing glorious poetry nation-wide some forty years later and still based in London!
A very common phrase among people who look at the poetry I have been reading lately is the comment that ‘It doesn’t rhyme.’ In turn, I have taken that phrase and used it as a discussion point with poets about their works. The concept of non-rhyming poetry has filled my reading habits for the last little while that it may have clouded my judgement. But that prejudice was shattered when I recently read Enjoy it While it Hurts by JonArno Lawson and my mind’s eye was reawaken.
Song of the Hosta (Page 15)
I’m hiding from the sun –
It tried to glimpse me from above
It burnt the grass while stalking me –
What was it thinking of?
Some wort said heartless hosta
But to me, that isn’t love.
I saw I knew I understood
What couldn’t be expressed
Its garment was a part of it
It couldn’t be undressed.
It slunk around the throat
of what it festered, unconfessed
The fat old sun, what to be done?
Rays for fingers, flare for a thumb.
While there is much whimsy in Lawson’s work here, the trick here is to read each line very carefully. The mind’s eye needs to catch the wisdom in the phrases to allow a certain amount of enlightenment to occur. The urge is there to race through reading the lines without thinking of their meaning, which is a sad detail to miss.
Quarrelsome Quips (Page 43) (Excerpt)
Those who have the nerve but lack the knack
However great their verve for an attack
Best to keep them busy at the back.
Those who have the knack but lack the nerve
Who, when they see a problem, duck and swerve
Keep them, with the knackless, in reserve
Those who pilfer filberts when they fish
Their fingers round the edges of my dish
May filch more filberts anytime they wish (I don’t like them)
Lawson has added to the whimsy by including his own drawings to illustrate the work. They are detailed sketches which add to the enlightenment of the text.
JonArno Lawson’s Enjoy It While It Hurts wraps within it’s whimsy. It is a work that needs to be carefully read but a pleasure to read.
We have all experience moments around us when things are quiet. A hush surrounds us and we become lost in our thoughts until a little sound disturbs us. Or we are in a very noisy situations for a continuous period and we seek out a moment of quiet and solitude. Anne-Marie Turza has considered those moments and has placed them in her collection of poetry called The Quiet.
The Quiet – ii:i (Page 33)
We lived in that quiet, above megrims in second storey
windows, painted our mouths with ketchup, our eyelids
with sweet relish, wore singlets made from the dyed hair
of miniature horses. Evenings, we lit candles. Chanted
in Latin. Adsum, adsum, a capite ad cacem. Mostly we
didn’t know what we were saying. We lived there for years,
shared our beds with the mouths of beetles. In that quiet,
tender with attention, our faces swollen, the stung backs
of our knees, our bitten heels.
Turza has captured a universal experience for many people here but many may take those quiet moments for granted. She has collected her thoughts well here, easily having any reader capture the images she has created with their mind’s eye.
i:iii (page 7)
Within every city are unseen cities, intangible walls and alleys: a voice, on afternoon on the raido, addressed its audience. Rats too are historiographers, said the voice, the voice of a rat specialist. Come hydraulic hammers and hoe rams, come rubble, Rats thread the empty plots between ghost buildings, following old paths to their nests as if the walls still stand. In this city of brick and limestone where you and I are sleeping. Every night, traversing pathways that seem no longer to exist.
Turza also takes us down roads that seem strange to us, but then illuminates the way with familiar signs.
Anthem For A Small Country (Page 26)
In my country we admire the ambitious dust: long into the night,
for endless hours, it practices such gentleness on the window’s sill.
Our country’s flower is the rose in the curved bed of the fingernail
And there is a surreal-type of grace here in these words as well. It is a pleasure to read and to contemplate the thoughts surrounding the words.
On Sleep (Page 49)
Have you never met, in passing, a stranger who addressed you knowingly? “You can’t sleep well, in your language,” a woman once told me, pipe smoke seeping from the bowl of her vowels. I was reading a book with a soft cloth cover, a monograph on the water beetle, waiting for a train in the glass-domed station, the pages stippled with dust. The woman pointed to a table where a man sat eating almonds from a green bowl. “In my language I can put that table anywhere.” Pardon me?, I said. Already, the table, drifting upwards; tendrils of the man’s hair, on end; the smooth soles of his shoes, eighth notes rising overhead. A rain of almonds from the high dome where birdshapes turn millwheel in the gathered clangour of the trains. To sleep well, not in this language.
The Quiet by Anne-Marie Turza is a collection that is enlightening a filled with grace. A perfect read for a quiet moment.
I always believed that the human condition needed to be better examined but it wasn’t until recently that I discover how well a medium poetry is for doing just that. I have started reading older published works of poetry and feeling overwhelmed by the process. There is a lot that is being recommended for me to read. However one book has brought older works recently to my attention and that is The Essential Margaret Avison .
The World Still Needs (Excerpt) page 9
Frivolity is out of season.
Yet, in this poetry, let it be admitted
The world still needs piano-turners
And has fewer, and more of these
Grey fellows prone to liquor
On an unlikely Tuesday, gritty with wind,
When somewhere, behind windows,
A housewife stays for him until
Hour of the uneasy bridge-club cocktails
And the office rush at the groceteria
And the vesper-bell and the lit-up buses passing
And the supper trays along the hospital from
Sore throat and dusty curtains
Avison’s words here have a clear a descriptive quality. They are easy to understand and the imagery becomes apparent to the mind’s eye while reading.
Hid Life (Page 39)
Red apples hang frozen
in a stick-dry, snow dusty
network of branches,
against lamb’s wool and pastelblue of sky,
a crooked woodenness, a wizening red.
Are these iron stems? or is
this tree in a lee out of the
Heavily in my heart
the frost-bruised fruit, the sombre tree,
this unvisted room off winter’s endless corridors
even this fruit’s flesh
will sodden down at last.
Botanist, does the seed
so long up held
still somehow inform
petal and apple-spring-perfume
for sure, from so far?
Is the weight only
Robyn Sarah has provided a interesting introduction to the life and work of Avison at the beginning of the book.
Forward – Page 8
Avison’s poems exhibit a range of forms and styles, yet in every mode a voice comes through that is uniquely recognizable as hers – a response to the world that seamlessly blends the cerebral, the sensory, and the emotive. She broaches the metaphysical, the social and the human, delineating these with almost hallucinatory attention to detail. A wide-ranging allusiveness reflects eclectic reading, but equal attention is given to the unmediated ‘real world’ (primarily an urban world, rendered with haunting vividness through changes of season and times of day). The simplest poems about weather today, or the view out the window, easily yield a metaphoric reading, yet can also satisfy as poems about the weather or the view out the window.
It was a pleasure to read Avison’s work here. No doubt I will be exploring more of her work in the future.
Power (page 45)
Master of his first tricycle,
pedalling furiously towards the singing
he – double elation – meets
his father fresh afoot from that main thoroughfare –
to circle and
come too? No – a palaver
in reasonable terms he mutinously
waits out, stubbed between land and father’s foot,
all dammed-up and high voltage
with all ear for where he’ll go
At last dad hoists him, waist under one arm
trike dangled from the other hand
and heads home
DON’T PICK ME UP! the scarlet
struggling sobbing adventurer
wails (after the fact).
One is so powerful.
One is so small.
How can power know
not to make helplessness
what is decisive?
The Essential Margaret Avison was an enlightening introduction into the works of a brilliant poet. A must read for any poetry fan.
Is what we perceive what we really see? When we look at something do we really and truly understand it? Or are we misjudging and dismissing items that are really important. These are the types of questions that come up when one reads Suzanne Buffam excellent collection of poetry called The Irrationalist.
Ruined Interior (Excerpt) Page 3
In the beginning was the world
Then the new world.
Then the new world order
Which resembles the old one,
Doesn’t it? Its crumbling
Aqueducts. It trinkets and shingles.
Its pathways lacquered in fog.
If all we’ve done is blink a bit
And touch things,
Notice how dust describes
A tin can by not falling
Where it sits, or how a red sleeve
Glimpsed through curtains
Mimics the tip of a flickering
Wing, was the whole day a waste
Or can worth be conferred
on a less than epic urge? Bow-wow
Says the doggie on page two.
Buffam has a frank style here but still at times can be mind-blowing with a turn of a phrase. Each and every line can make a reader pause and think.
On Necessity (Page 29)
As a young man Galileo
Understood very well
The workings of the pendulum
But not until he was an old man
Of his death
Did he devise
The pendulum clock
On First Lines (Page 34)
The first line should pry up
A little corner of the soul
As the first ray of daylight
Pries open the sleeper’s lids.
The mind’s eye is certainly opened a few times by these poems. The words need to be read and re-read to completely gain the meanings but the thoughts are profound.
The Wise Man (Page 61)
I am not a wise man. This makes my life difficult in certain ways. But in other ways it simplifies things. I find it hard to sit still very long before I get up and wander the halls in my hat for example. On the other hand I stay warm and keep moving. Could these ways be the same way? A wise man could tell you. A wise an would look out his window and see not a row of low clouds rolling east like a trainload of coal through a crossroads, but a lit glimpse of the infinite, the wise man’s only home. A wise man might think of his childhood and smile. Often in a quandary I ask myself what would a wise man do? A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees, said a wise man, and when I look out at the spruce I wonder what a wise man sees. A wise man might laugh at such questions. As for me I laugh often, but I don’t get the joke.
The Irrationalist by Suzanne Buffam is a frank and eye-opening read. It questions in many cases what we perceive and makes one think. Definitely a great piece of literature.
It is sometimes too easy to forget the natural world around us. We rush around in our modern lives, day in and day out, and forget that there is a world out there. But certain combinations of word can awaken us from our selfish state. And Marianne Bluger’s collection of poetry called Summer Grass contains such a combination of words.
The Ancestors (Page 11)
Late summer now
and rolling clouds
are moving in
in towering cumulus
they build in silence
such a solid thing
as would be thunder
if the dead could speak
Bluger’s words here are strong and forceful, as if to remind us that our lives are surrounded by the natural world as well. As much as we are absorbed by life, the state of the world affects us too.
The Gorge (Page 40-41)
Some axis tipped
the bedrock shifted
split the mud track between us
and I couldn’t get back
now we’re lost in time
that swampy stuff I’d never seen
the future appears
already to have happened
like light arriving
from a star long dead
neither decently buried by glaciers
nor bedded in silt of the ages
unupholstered a dinosaur
wired I must stand
until I find you again
beside some cliff the quake heaved up
cropping swaying crowns of green
you must stave off extinctiction
you must wait
with your beautiful neck
Elements of these words are very matter of fact. The imagery sticks in the reader’s mind long past the words may be forgotten.
Terminus I (Page 44)
As your plane climbed away
I watched from the ground
watched it rise in combustion roar
watched it soar in steep ascent
and was swept where I stood
by a gust from the past
I remembered the past
our troubled past
how a rounding curve in the Gatineau once
we saw a hawk lift off over spruce
its talons hooked
on a drooping rabbit’s nape
The words in Marianne Bluger’s Summer Grass are strong and forceful. And the imagery they create is not easily forgotten. This is a memorable read.
There seems moments in our lives when we question who were are and what we have done. It comes to us late at night or while on vacation or especially when reading. Omens in the Year of the Ox is a collection of poetry by Steven Price that ponders our existence in unique ways.
Page 13 The Crossing (excerpt)
So. At the end of the middle of your life
you wake, rain-shivering, to a white railing
in a shriven dusk. A strangeness churning
under the hull, the great blades boiling through
ferruginous waters. So the ferries sail still
in this late age, vast holds half-full of souls.
And so you rise, each day, more than you were.
Exhausted, maybe, into silence. When Bridges
wrote, How is the world’s bright shift held
in such a cluttered line? Hopkins, in a rage,
had no answer. Or none beyond his poetry.
Rain in silver ropes overrunning his faith,
his metre marking long great gulps of night air.
So the waters gulp at the mournful hull,
so the rusted bolts bleed.
Price’s words here are dark, mysterious and filled with unique references to mythology and classical literature. But there is also something introspective in the lines. Something almost indescribable yet something that we all feel.
Auto-da-Fe (page 34)
Grace is like fire, says Augustine of Hippo, extending the metaphor: burning a man must be done with skill if he is to last. Most die with merely their calves on fire. I remember a dark swale of grass, a girl lifting her shirt. Folding back her cuffs to show her scars. Cigarette burns in small white lesions on her wrists. When burning a man, one must tether faggots and twists of straw up the stake to the head. In this way he will burn in stages and not be overwhelmed. She ran her fingers through her hair and her hair in the dusk was singed by the fire of that setting sun. As a toddler Augustine had played in the courtyard while his mother bathed, the bones glowing in her ankles. Augustine says in the sunlight the hands of our mothers burn like sunlight, like they aren’t there at all. It is never what we think. She rubbed her scars and said, Fire eats and eats in order not to die. I said, We are so alike you and I.
These are complex poems written in different styles. They need to be read again and again, at different times of the day and while suffering from different moods. Price’s words enlightening and thought-provoking.
II. VAGRANCY BLUES – (Page 65)
Got to lurk,
shine an shirk,
ain’t nothin so sweet as steady work
Got to thank the man.
Got sun, sand,
an ever man workin just as hard as he can.
Got to thank the man.
Got bed, board,
ten to a ward,
shiny new collar for each of us, lord-
Got to thank the man.
Got time, time,
askin no dime,
punchin that dirt on God’s county line
Got to thank the man.
night an day,
watchin the good man give us our pay –
O right proper one a these days
we goin to thank that man,
I say we goin to thank that man.
A complex yet thought-provoking read, Omens in the Year of the Ox by Steven Price is a fantastic collection of poetry. The different styles of verse are interesting but the ideas Price brings forward are certainly enlightening.
Bio: Catherine Graham is the author of Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects (Link to my review) , a finalist for the Raymond Souster Poetry Award, and the acclaimed poetry trilogy: Pupa, The Red Element and Winterkill. Winner of the IFOA’s 6thPoetry NOW competition, recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Poetry Daily (USA), The Ulster Tatler (Northern Ireland), The Malahat Review, Crannóg Magazine (Ireland), Eyewear (UK), The Fiddlehead, Prairie Fire, Joyland and Room Magazine. Her work is anthologized in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol IV & V and The White Page /An Bhileog Bhan: Twentieth Century Irish Women Poets. Winner of an Excellence in Teaching Award, she is an instructor of creative writing at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies. www.catherinegraham.com
1) It has been a bit of time since Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects has been released. How are you finding the reaction to it so far?
A: The book was launched last October and I’m pleased with the reactions from readers so far. It’s had several positive reviews, a Raymond Souster Poetry Award nomination and my reading of it won IFOA’s Poetry NOW competition. One writer, Lisa de Nikolits is currently tweeting lines from it on Twitter. It’s rewarding to see readers respond so favourably to the work.
2) 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: Poetry demands a reader’s full attention. What you give to the poem the poem will give back. This requires concentrated effort and full engagement with the text. Not everyone is willing to surrender to the demands of poetry or even to seek it out. But if you do, you may feel as Emily Dickinson put it, “as if the top of my head were taken off” I know that happens to me when I read good poetry.
3) Who are your favourite writers? Who are you reading right now?
A: I have too many favourites to list them all. My taste in poetry is quite varied with a slant towards Irish, Northern Irish, and UK poets, given I studied poetry in Northern Ireland (completing an M.A.) and lived there for many years afterwards. In addition to reading Mary Ruefle’s collected lectures Madness, Rack and Honey and James Longenbach’s The Virtues of Poetry, I’m re-reading Louise Glück, Seamus Heaney, Tomas Tranströmer and Wallace Stevens. Next week this list will change.
4) Why do you use poetry to write? Have you ever tried any other forms of writing to express yourself?
A: I find poetry uses me. With this in mind there is no why. I love what poetry can do: say the most with the least amount of words. I have written some prose, but poetry is my first love. I couldn’t live without it.
5) There are a lot of people who seem to be writing poetry right nowjust for their own personal enjoyment. Do you have any advice for people who are doing that task right now?
A: The best advice I can give is to read poetry and never stop reading poetry.
6) Your website lists you as “Marketing Coordinator” for the Rowers Reading Series. Does that job help you with your writing at all?
A: Volunteer work such as being the marketing coordinator for the Rowers Reading Series is a way of giving back to the writing community. Showcasing talented writers on a monthly basis helps connect writers with readers. Hearing authors read their work aloud can add new dimensions to the text through the power of the listening experience. It doesn’t help directly with my writing but it is extremely rewarding watching invited authors shine on stage.
7) You seem active on the social media platforms like Twitter. Do you find such tools useful in helping with your writing?
A: I’ve only recently joined Twitter so I’m still learning the ropes. Social media doesn’t help me directly with my writing but it keeps me informed with what’s going on in the literary community. It also helps me connect with other writers. I can be found here: @catgrahampoet.
8) Have you done any public readings? If yes, what was that experience like for you?
A: I’ve read overseas in Belfast, Dublin, London and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as well as multiple venues here in Toronto such as the Toronto Reference Library and Word on the Street. One of my most recent readings took place at the IFOA’s Poetry NOW Battle of the Bards. Given all the talented poets reading there that night I was thrilled and honoured to win the competition. This means I’ll be reading there this fall for the 35th annual International Festival of Authors
I’m always nervous before readings but once on stage I try to let the words do the work.
9) Are you working on anything new right now for publication?
A: I’m working on new poems at the moment. If past history is any indication, they will eventually show me when I have a new manuscript.
Amy Billone has recently published a book of poetry called “The Light Changes” (Link to my review). She holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University and is currently an Associate Professor of English at the University of Tennessee. She lives in Knoxville with her two sons.
1) Why do you use poetry to write? Have you ever tried any other forms of writing to express yourself?
I have always written poems since I was a young child. For this reason, I think—because I associate poetry with my first written words—I have never seen it as being inaccessible or alienating as a genre the way others sometimes do. I need to write analytically for my job as a professor so that is another form of writing I will always work in. However, I am driven to find new forms of creative writing and I will try anything I am able to do. I am excited about the idea of discovering or inventing a new genre to write in: one I have never tried before. Anything is possible for me at this point.
2) Who are some other writers that you admire? What are you currently reading right now?
My favorite poet in English is William Wordsworth and my favorite book of poetry is Wordsworth’s The Prelude in all of its versions. I am currently reading the 667 page volume of the 1798, 1799, 1805 and 1850 versions to my sons who perhaps to humor me recently asked me if I could read the book to them again when I finished it. I laughed and told them I would happily read it to them as many times as they wanted until they move out (they are 6 and 7 years old). My favorite living poet in English is W.S. Merwin. I just re-read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray together with the sonnets of John Donne and George Herbert for the two classes I am teaching at the University of Tennessee. I love to experience the interaction between dissimilar works and to notice the impact that earlier writers have made on very popular art forms across a wide range of media today.
3) How has the reaction been to “The Light Changes” so far? Do you find that poetry suffers from a ‘stereotypical’ image that keeps readers away?
Overall I have been happy about the reaction to The Light Changes. I was extremely moved by the starred Kirkus review. I do think poetry suffers from a stereotypical image that keeps readers away. My own book is full of references to other writers, poets like Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Jack Gilbert and Sylvia Plath and fiction writers like Virginia Woolf. If you do not know these writers’ biographies or their writing, some of what I am trying to do in my book might be lost. Poetry can be difficult to read.
4) Are you planning any new writing projects in the future?
Yes. I am currently completing a scholarly book about dreams and childhood. In terms of my creative work, I have hundreds of pages written but not yet with a specific form or shape. This is actually how I write most of my poetry in the early drafts. Right now, I am still trying to decide what form I will put these particular words in. I keep imagining alternate genres. I am eager to find a voice that will reach as many people as possible and that will reach them in the most effective way.
5) Does your role as associate professor help you with your writing? Do your sons inspire you to write?
I think my work as an Associate Professor and my work as a mother to my sons complexly give me inspiration for my creative writing and at the same time give me hurdles to overcome. Both are very time-consuming jobs. The challenge becomes how to channel the incredible intellectual and emotional energy that is generated by these different aspects of my life into my creative writing while at the same time remaining a serious scholar and a devoted mother.
6) Do you (Or did you do any) public readings of “The Light Changes?” If, yes, what was the experience like for you?
I have not yet done any public readings of The Light Changes. I became excited about the idea of making an audible version of the book, which is now available on Amazon, Audible and iTunes. I discovered that I loved narrating my poems—performing the various voices in the book, as if it were a kind of play. Reactions to the audiobook have so far been very positive.
7) You used Goodreads.com to promote your book. What was that experience like for you? Have you used any other social media websites to promote yourself?
I used Goodreads and Kirkus and Facebook and Twitter to promote The Light Changes. Goodreads and Kirkus both did Giveaways of the book. The Giveaways were a bit frightening for me. I have had to realize that not everyone will respond to my book in the same way. So much of this process for me has been about taking risks. At the moment I can say I have no regrets about the way the book has been promoted. I long for an audience.
8) The illustration on the cover of “The Light Changes” is very interesting. Is there a special link there for you?
My discovery of Maria Klawe’s Starling Flox (2005) as a cover image for my book was a miracle made possible by the digital revolution. After years of thought, I decided to search Google Images for the word “starling.” I was drawn to starlings because the last poem in my book is about watching starlings fly from a tree to a river at sunset. When I saw Klawe’s painting it blew me away. I felt everything I was expressing in the book was brilliantly conveyed in her gorgeous art. I was thrilled when she gave me permission to use her painting on my cover.
9) You seem to talk about a lot of travelling in “The Light Changes.” Are you planning any big trips soon?
I will be travelling to the University of Houston to chair a panel devoted to dreams and nineteenth-century energies at the Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Studies conference at the end of March. I will also be travelling to the UK this summer to present at a conference that will celebrate the 250th birthday of Gothic writer Ann Radcliffe at the University of Sheffield. I have a passion for travelling.
10) How has living in Tennessee been for you?
I had never been to Knoxville, Tennessee when I interviewed for my job at the University of Tennessee in 2000. At the time, I lived in New York City. I have always loved big cities. Living in Knoxville has been relaxing. It is a quiet contained place where I can gather and focus my energy in between trips to other places, whether real or imaginary.