Thursday, 15 December 2011
Toronto Poets 5 Questions Series - Lisa Young
Lisa Young is a poet and experimental writer residing in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Jones Av., Misunderstandings Magazine, Quills Canadian Poetry Magazine, and Rampike Magazine. She is the former fiction editor and senior poetry editor for Existere: Journal of Arts and Literature. She recently joined the Quattro Presents WordStage Reading Series Team and will be co-hosting events every other month. She also belongs to the Plasticine Poetry Collective and Moosemeat as well as a few other long-standing writing groups in Toronto.
Lisa’s debut collection of poetry When the Earth was published by Quattro Books in the fall of 2011. Her poems are laced with an overlapping nature theme that interweaves comparisons to the wonderment and innocence of childhood. She challenges the reader to give serious thought to the immensity of natures dynamic and its lingering effect on their own mortality, the nature of self. She encourages us to drop our guard and look at the outside world as no longer being the enemy.
For more information, visit Lisa at her blog.
In My Brother’s Room
In my brother’s room,
blue-green walls, a glade,
or an underworld
where seaweed never tangled.
a turtle with a felt shell,
a stone in the shape of a man.
Behind the door,
a chemistry set.
In the days before we grew out
of our rooms and stopped,
we drew figure eights overlapping each other
and coloured the new shapes in.
TTQ - How would you best describe the poems contained in your debut collection of poetry When the Earth (Quattro Books, 2011)? Is there a particular theme or message you were trying to convey to readers?
Lisa Young - Many of the poems in the collection might be what you call nature poems. Nature poems perhaps have a bad reputation, but if you look at the kinds of poems someone like Jane Hirshfield writes, you see that nature is a great teacher in terms of showing us the forces we’re up against.
Nature is both frightening and comforting and I try to portray it as such. In some cases, the poems are meant to point toward a more inspirational way of living – in an attempt to honour those times when I do have more clarity than I might regularly have access to.
Some of my poems could be described as meditative – using the everyday to express inner experiences. I write for many reasons, but the one reason that is always forefront in my mind, is that my whole life is going by and I want to reclaim and value those fleeting moments in poems.
Some of my poems, oddly, take place in the kitchen. Chores somehow inspire poetry. Who knew?
In the poem, “The Way of Yellow” there’s a reference to castle walls. Just thinking about it now, perhaps the collection is about bringing down these walls – where one no longer has to consider the world “out there” as the enemy. I’m in question about life – and I suppose that’s also the message I want to impart – to stay in question about ourselves and the world around us. Childhood wonder and the reclaiming of it, is definitely a theme of the collection.
TTQ - How difficult was the editing process for you and deciding which poems would be included in When the Earth? Who helped you with editing the book and what was that experience like?
Lisa Young - In terms of which poems to include, it really was a very organic process. Some poems, over time, politely admitted defeat and left gracefully. Allan Briesmaster was my editor. While he would give certain suggestions, it was entirely up to me how to improve a poem. When we were both happy with what was on the page, the poem was “ready.”
Mind you, there was a whole section that was immediately put up on the chopping block as soon as my manuscript was accepted. It was a section entitled, “Fairies and Fantasy.” It was a fairly weak section, so when Allan suggested we leave it out, I immediately saw that he was right, although, I did save at least one poem from that section.
It was a relief to have such a seasoned editor help me with the book. I trusted his instincts completely. I did have some resistance to going back and editing certain poems, just because of the sheer work involved. In some cases, I could make simple changes to improve a poem, but some needed major renovations. Allan provided a fresh perspective with his editing suggestions – so that gave me the extra boost of energy I needed to go back in and have another look. I definitely stretched my capabilities to the limit.
TTQ - How would you best describe your writing process? Do you find yourself writing poetry on a daily basis or only when inspired? What works best for you?
Lisa Young - I do have a system that works for me. The main function of this “system” is to ensure that month after month, I’m writing on a consistent basis. I have batches of rough drafts of poems to work on. I generate my material at writing retreats which I attend about four times a year.
My monthly poetry feedback group requires that we bring two of our poems to be critiqued. So I always have two poems I’m working on for the next critique session.
I also attend one day workshops at least three times a year. And I have a monthly poetry writing group where we write for 45 minutes straight. In that group, we write early in the morning. To start, I might just describe what I see – or pursue certain ideas or images that have bubbled up that morning. Sometimes I wait for something to come to me, but you can’t wait too long because you only have 45 minutes to write. Reading poetry aloud before we begin writing also generates a certain rich, creative energy.
I try to put myself under conditions where inspiration may come. It rarely comes on its own without some preparation or prodding.
TTQ - What turns you on creatively, spiritually and emotionally?
Lisa Young - I love clouds. It’s a good day if I can sit with a pad and pen in hand and write about the clouds I see rolling by. I’m interested in ideas – particularly around creativity. What do you dive into and what do you leave behind?
Reading aloud definitely creates a certain cozy, but exciting atmosphere. I like coming across foods I’ve never heard of or tasted before. Silence inspires me. A quiet Saturday morning – the wind brushing up against the windows. Exploring what it means to be human – asking questions and trying to find ways around my own resistance.
I like the excitement of a monthly reading series. The creative mish-mash of people and readings, and the way you have to talk loudly just to hear yourself.
Music can wake my whole body up. Piano, bassoon, flute. Music is one of those mysterious elements or forces in life. I like those rare, blessed moments when I experience a clear mind and a light heart.
TTQ - What is your opinion of the poetry community in Toronto? Do you feel poets should play a bigger role and lend their voices to socio-political events like, for example Occupy Toronto?
Lisa Young - There must be thousands of niches known and unknown in the poetry community. Some of my favourite poets haven’t even been published or shared their work with the wider community. What makes a community? Camaraderie. Open mics introduce and welcome people into the poetry community. Blogs also help keep us in the loop and let us get to know each other a bit more.
There’s a lot of creative cooperation going on. A big crossover and blending of all types of poetry is especially alive and well at reading series.
I personally would love to see more poets sharing their poetry at socio-political events, on the street – anywhere and everywhere.
Are poets seen as dreamers? Or do we have something practical to contribute? Whether political arenas take poetry seriously or not – a bit of poetry can have a huge impact and in the bargain a few more voices are heard. Whether a poem is a call to action, a cry for justice, or a rant to clear the air – poetry always has a place, just as all the arts do – in helping us celebrate and understand ourselves and our lives. That’s a good thing!