5 Questions with Julie Cameron Gray, David Goldstein, John Nyman and Lisa Richter

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Julie Cameron Gray, David Goldstein, John Nyman and Lisa Richter are four of the 20 participating poets competing in the Poetry NOW:  Battle of the Bards. IFOA asked them about writing poetry and where they find their inspiration.

Want to hear them read live on March 29th? Event info, here!


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IFOA: What do you look for when reading poetry?

Julie Cameron Gray:  I look for poems that have a seed of familiarity, where I recognize an emotion or a moment as so completely true that I feel like it has happened to me, even if I know it hasn’t.

David Goldstein: An immodest love of language.

John Nyman: The first thing I look for is the poet’s willingness to do something unexpected, even unsanctioned. After that I look for a kind of unusual wisdom, poems that gradually depart from the worlds they are born to while also bringing me closer to my own experiences.

Lisa Richter: Emotional punch, honesty, truth, beauty, self-discovery, surprise, and vulnerability. I love poems that are simultaneously accessible but multi-layered, that upon close reading or re-reading, invite multiple interpretations, vibrate on different frequencies.

IFOA: What do you love most about writing poetry?

Julie Cameron Gray: I love the intricate machinery. Poems are never just words on a page- they are complex devices with each word a moving part. Editing a poem is trying to get the machine to run perfectly- tweaking and replacing, cutting and re-engineering. Sometimes you end up with something wonderful that is very different than what you set out to make.

David Goldstein: The way it opens me to the vocabulary of others.

John Nyman: It’s an exercise in urging my freest impulses to bloom.

Lisa Richter: First, what I don’t love: sitting down to write, and feeling stuck. Sometimes you just need to give your conscious mind a break and send it out for coffee. Some of my strongest, or perhaps I should say, most successful poems have started this way. I also have a slightly masochistic love of the revising process, sometimes it’s in the editing room that the magic really happens. Being a perfectionist, of course, can be a trap: the hardest thing in the world sometimes is to stop tinkering with a poem, let it breathe, and walk away.

IFOA: If you could only read one poet’s work for the rest of your life who would it be?

Julie Cameron Gray: Oh, such an impossible question! I’d have a different answer every time you ask. I think right now I’d say Gwendolyn MacEwen, but if you asked me in an hour, I would probably say Yeats. Wait, does Virginia Woolf count as a poet? Her imagery is so finely distilled I feel like she might.

David Goldstein: Dickinson Rilke Celan. That’s one poet, right?

John Nyman: This is a cruel question. But I think I’d have to answer Erin Mouré, especially if I’m allowed to include her many quasi-pseudonyms and (of course!) her translations. I think her writing, at various points, does almost everything I really love in literature: it’s bold and sharp, it’s experimental, it charges headfirst into political and philosophical arguments, and it immerses me in strange and dense thickets of language; yet it’s also expressive, exuberant, and all kinds of emotional, and speaks candidly about the basic elements of life.

Lisa Richter: Ah, the dreaded desert island question. After giving this a lot of thought, I wouldn’t necessarily choose a poet whom I’d actually call a favourite—Sharon Olds, Adrienne Rich, Leonard Cohen, Mark Doty, or Phyllis Webb, to name a few—but one that I want to understand better and learn more about, whose work has fascinated me for years: T.S. Eliot. The breadth and depth of Eliot’s work, the musicality of his language, and richness of his intertextuality make him the perfect desert island poet, one whose work has many layers, but can be appreciated on a surface, sensory level as well.


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IFOA: What inspires you?

Julie Cameron Gray: Everything. Mistakes, anxiety, the human theater of our daily lives. The heartbreaking reality of our mundane. We live in a technologically advanced age in one of the best countries in the world and yet we are often miserable, and creators of our own misery. I find that endlessly fascinating.

David Goldstein: The way the everyday stumbles into art without noticing.

John Nyman: Most thoroughly, critical theory and the larger philosophical tradition. Poetry, for me, is a close cousin of the kind of language we use to think through the world and do justice to the truth of things. I’m also a very systematic thinker, even artistically, so I’m turned on by complex conceptual mechanisms.Other inspirations include, in no particular order, video games, fine art, hip-hop, houseplants, and life’s incongruities.

Lisa Richter: Art, architecture, language, cities, music, large bodies of water, documentaries, graffiti, desert landscapes, long road trips and bus rides watching the scenery go by, the seasons (especially spring), tarot cards, Greek and Roman mythology, Women who Run with the Wolves, grassroots social movements and environmental activism, community, feminism,acts of courage, random acts of kindness, imperfections, people being their flawed, authentic selves, being in love.

IFOA: What is one thing you have learned about yourself from writing your most recent collection?

Julie Cameron Gray:
That I love exploring the same idea over multiple poems. Lady Crawford as a whole is an examination of personal identity, how we construct ourselves based on the choices we make, the things we do or do not do and how our actions (or lack thereof) define us. In the book I have a whole cast of characters other than Lady Crawford that I used to explore that theme, but the central character of Lady Crawford was the part of the collection I found the easiest to write. I think my next collection might be an entire examination of a particular story, each poem an exploration of a larger idea or poetic narrative, but we’ll see.

David Goldstein: How well I remember marigolds.

John Nyman: I think I’ve learned that even my most far-flung projects never escape the orbit of my style. No matter what I do, it’s always me doing it.

Lisa Richter: That I can finish what I started, and seeing a manuscript through to its completion. After so many years of dreaming of writing and publishing a full-length collection, I finally did it. It’s an incredible feeling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Club Notes: March

book-club-notes-bannerFor the month of March we are delighted to welcome author Catherine Graham to lead our Book Club! She has invited us to read Lynn Crosbie’s Life Is About Losing Everything. Graham tells us why she chose this book.

“Loneliness has attached itself to me like suction cups. I do not know what to do.”

                                                                                                                                   —Lynn Crosbie

Loss was the catalyst that led me to the writing life. My mother died during my first year at McMaster University, my father, the autumn of my last. Having lived through loss, it’s a subject I know all too well and one I’m drawn to as a reader. I find books on loss comforting, not depressing. When I saw the title of Lynn Crosbie’s book, I knew I had to read it.

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This book defies categorization. I admire its fierceness, emotional range, natural mix of poetry and prose and blend of biography and fantasy. It brings everything in, just like life. We eventually lose all we have, some of us earlier, some later, whether we like it or not. By confronting losses—examining them close up as Lynn does so beautifully in these short interconnected pieces—we can learn to survive them.

Voice drives the novel, not plot. Like poems in a poetry book each vignette works independently but becomes more as parts form a whole, a way of seeing, like mismatched scraps of fabric in a crazy quilt. Crosbie’s unconventionality, black humour, shifting tone and whimsicality create a world that’s raw and fresh, strong yet vulnerable. She sketches seven tumultuous years of her life in an unchronological manner and gives room for readers to move through each piece with their own thoughts and reflections.

Raunchy, dark, and oh so funny, Life Is About Losing Everything is packed with references I’m familiar with and places I’ve been to. I never know quite where her prose will take me. Each sentence is a fiery pleasure to read.

 


(c) Prosopon PhotographyCatherine Graham is the author of five poetry collections, including Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects, a finalist for the Raymond Souster Poetry Award and the CAA Poetry Award. She received an Excellence In Teaching Award at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies where she teaches creative writing. She was also the winner of Poetry NOW 2014. Her sixth poetry collection will appear in 2017 as will her first novel, Quarry.

5 Questions with Kerry Clare

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IFOA: What are the main themes you wanted to explore in Mitzi Bytes?

Kerry Clare: The idea of a woman who finds out people are reading her blog who aren’t necessarily her intended audience, to put it delicately, turned up in a story I wrote a long time ago, and that idea preoccupied me for a long time after. At some point I made a connection between this idea and the children’s novel Harriet the Spy (which itself explores some mature and complicated themes), in which Harriet writes nasty things about her friends and classmates in her notebook, and then her notebook falls into the wrong hands. I realized that an homage to Harriet the Spy would give me the framework I needed to write my novel, and that the idea of my character not knowing who’d found her out would inject the story with some necessary and urgent plot.

IFOA: Marissa Stapley, bestselling author of Mating for Life,  has called Mitzi Bytes ‘provocative’. What makes this story provocative?

Kerry Clare: Mitzi Bytes is provocative because (like Harriet the Spy) it’s part of a fine literary tradition of books whose protagonist doesn’t learn her lesson and change at the end. It’s not a tidy book, and all this is less common and more controversial than one might expect. The last few months in particular have shown me that we live in a world in which women can be so reviled for the fact of their gender, and so I think it’s more important than ever to tell stories of people resisting narrow notions of how women should be.

IFOA: For the last 15 years you have been blogging about books, experiences, family and the world. You have said that blogging “is about showing one’s work, being open to and curious about the world…”. What advice would you have given your heroine when she first started blogging?

Kerry Clare: I’m not sure she would have needed my advice, or that anybody does, for that matter. Because the point of blogging is to be blazing a trail, which is what Sarah was doing when she started her blog in 1999, and she was just one of a handful of people who were doing that then. And she did it really well, which is why she built up a huge audience without even intending to do so—she was just telling her stories. Maybe I would advise her not to keep her online self and actual self so divided—I think blogs are best approached with a spirit of openness. But then again she was writing about blowjobs in taxicabs and sex with ventriloquists—her blog was much more interesting than mine has ever been—so perhaps that advice might not apply to her!

kerry-clare_credit_tracey-nolanIFOA: Who is Mitzi, who is Sarah? Can these two “identities” exist in the same realm?

Kerry Clare: This is the central question of the novel, I think, and the answer is: of course they can! Only on stupidly provocative magazine covers do women have to decide between being one thing or another. In real life, we’re all lots of things. We contain multitudes. And while negotiating these can be tricky, it also keeps the world interesting. It keeps us human too.

IFOA: What’s most exciting about having your debut novel published?

Kerry Clare: As a ridiculously avid reader, it’s been thrilling to learn about the process of bringing a book into the world, and all of the people who are part of that process. Production editors, proofreaders, and copyeditors are now superheroes to me, and I’ve been lucky to work with people who are so good at what they do. I am also excited to start visiting bookstores and festivals, because these are my favourite places to be. And finally, to know that people out there are actually reading this story I sat down and wrote three summers ago. It’s the very best thing, and such a great privilege.


Do you want to learn more about the book and the author? IFOA and HarperCollins Canada invite you to the release of Mitzi Bytes on March 16 at 7pm at Ben McNally Bookstore. More info here!

 

 

 

5 Questions with Sheila Sampath

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Sheila Sampath, writer, artist, educator and activist designer, is participating in our Valentine’s Day Twitter Chat. We had some questions about how she celebrates love on February 14th and year round!

If you need some guidance writing to your valentine, join us on Twitter between 12-1pm on February 14th to get some professional help.

IFOA: What advice do you have for someone struggling to write a love letter?

Sheila Sampath: Start with something small—where the stakes are lower. Try writing a letter to your favourite dress, bookshelf or armpit. Read it out loud and wait. Ask for feedback. Wait. Feel. When you’ve mastered this, move onto the neighbourhood cat or alpha-pigeon. Repeat. Work your way up to other humans.

IFOA: Did you write Valentines as a child? Do you still? sheila-7162

Sampath: Yes (to both questions), but rarely on Valentine’s Day.

IFOA: What is the most romantic book you have ever read?

Sampath: This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz. The stories in the book really bring out the messiness and complexities of love, as we negotiate race, class and trauma, and link the acts of healing with love in a way that both breaks my heart and gives me hope.

IFOA: Roses, chocolates, candy, teddy bears. What do you prefer?

Sampath: None of these things. I want that figurine of the cat I pointed out in the window that one time and then completely forgot about but you remembered because it was a special moment. Or a mix-tape.

IFOA: If you had to pick just one poet to quote always who would it be?

Sampath: At this moment, Nayyirah Waheed.

5 Questions with Daniel Scott Tysdal

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Daniel Scott Tysdal, author of Fauxccasional Poems, is participating in our Valentine’s Day Twitter Chat. We had some questions about how he celebrates love on February 14th and year round!

If you need some guidance writing to your valentine, join us on Twitter between 12-1pm on February 14th to get some professional help.

IFOA: What advice do you have for someone struggling to write a love letter?

Daniel Scott Tysdal: I’ve got two pieces of advice. One: be yourself. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re serious, be serious. Second: be particular. Don’t rely on platitudes and generalizations. Share favourite memories of your lover. Share your specific hopes for your future together. Share how these memories and hopes make you feel.

IFOA: Did you write Valentines as a child? Do you still? Tysdal, Daniel Scott

Tysdal: I still give Valentines to my one and only. On our first Valentine’s Day a decade ago, I gave her a phrenology bust. She was moved to tears. I was too anxious to enjoy Valentine’s Day when I was a kid. I was tormented by questions like: “Does an Optimus Prime Valentine that reads ‘You transform me’ truly and fully express my feelings for Amber?”

IFOA: What is the most romantic book you have ever read?

Tysdal: Don DeLillo’s Mao II.

IFOA: Roses, chocolates, candy, teddy bears. What do you prefer?

Tysdal: All of them. A candy filled chocolate teddy wearing a crown of roses. That’s my dream Valentine’s Day gift.

IFOA: If you had to pick just one poet to quote always who would it be?

Tysdal: For Valentine’s Day: Pablo Neruda. For always, it would be really cool to be able to quote a poet from the future, one writing two centuries from now. I would love to have a taste of what I’m going to miss.

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