Wednesday, 29 February 2012
“Afternoon is plain. Ten pages make the brisk walk from Wagner’s minor chords to the low sliding grunt of the Minotaur.”
- excerpt from Grunt of the Minotaur
Robin Richardson is 26-years-old and recently launched her debut collection of poetry Grunt of the Minotaur (Insomniac Press, 2011). She is a Toronto native pursuing her MFA in poetry at Sarah Lawrence College in New York City. Her work has appeared in many Canadian and international literary journals including Cv2, The Puritan, The Toronto Quarterly, Filling Station, The Cortland Review, The Berkeley Poetry Review, Misunderstandings Magazine, All Rights Reserved, Dandelion, and The Literary Review of Canada. She is the recipient of the Joan T Baldwin Award for writing and visual art and, with the generosity of the Ontario Arts Council, is currently working on her second collection of poems, Nervosa.
WHEN RETIRING FOR THE NIGHT
Appoint the various domestic disorders
in separate rooms. It's impossible to master
lights. Each separate occasion
rising for distinction in the lamp.
Keep the fire burning. Glad to wrap the heads
of guests in non-specific yellow gas. The gardener
may trip his shears: a finger lost and pointing
at your room: Ignore the creaking
wooden headboards, punctual shift
in temperature, with a book. The passage
may seem difficult, may be excused for
honest avails of sex or finger play.
This is how the mistress takes her nap, established
in the praises of useless conduct. She may wish
to part the brackets, politely printed
in a letter of introduction. Take the dusted
words to bed, acknowledge, politely, the beauty
of her guests. Though their husbands polish
themselves inside her and the windows
pout for want of her slightly parted petticoat.
FALSE SKETCHES ON A BEDPOST
Hers was a yellow flag rousing back and forth
above the houses.
She wondered what, if anything, she'd forgotten -
the front door a tomb.
She yawned, shut her book, crying, "Yes, yes," and
why not wrap the pillow with her legs.
The boy could have been a field, flock
of birds. She thought of his beard,
about the thinness of her own fingers,
union of her thoughts and the climate
of her thighs. She tried, again,
to remember dull trifles of the day
threatening her pleasure. There was the street,
stifled pets, respectable neighbours sleeping.
"No," she cried, "this is not what I am for!"
The empty room, nightlight agreed,
speaking tulip till she came.
TTQ – When did you begin writing poetry, and do you find that poetry is the best venue for you to express yourself?
Robin Richardson - I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’ve attempted a few novels and still plan on writing one successfully some day. I didn’t start writing poetry until about five years ago, when I had to for a creative writing class in undergrad. I found that the lyric allowed me to explore ideas and sounds that prose didn’t. I’ve been addicted to poetry ever since, and find that the more I practice and learn about it, the more I’m amazed by what it’s capable of.
TTQ – When you say that you’re amazed by the power of poetry and what it’s capable of, what do you mean by that exactly?
Robin Richardson – Well, with fictional prose you are limited to working with sentences and their variations. Generally you use those sentences to build believable narratives using characters, conflicts, settings etc. In poetry the form of the sentence is merely a starting point and even that needs to be adhered to in the strictest sense. In poetry you are free to integrate line, caesura, rhyme, metrical variation, etc. The list goes on almost indefinitely as new poetic units and devices are being invented all the time. Aside from the freedom of form in poetry, its content is not limited by the rules of narrative. A poem can be merely about sound or consciousness, it can be an examination of a single thought, object, or emotion, or a string of hundreds connected in any way the poet might imagine. With poetry I’m not tied down to my subject matter the way a novelist is, and may write about an abandoned mannequin factory one day, in one poem, and about an executioner’s dirty shoelace in the next. I get the sense that, with poetry, the possibilities are endless and that there is still so much space for experimentation. This is not to say, however, that I wouldn’t love to sit down and test my discipline by attempting a novel or two in my lifetime.
TTQ – Was there one particular book of poetry or individual poet that inspired or heavily influenced your decision to start writing?
Robin Richardson – Because I used to read fiction more than poetry my two biggest influences in the past decade are fiction writers, albeit they are very poetic in their prose. They are Virginia Woolf and Cormac McCarthy. I’ve read To the Lighthouse and Blood Meridian over five times each. They are both on my desk as I write this and I have no doubt I’ll be flipping through them again at least once before the week is over. It’s funny because Woolf and McCarthy are two very different writers with very different preoccupations, but I find that that polarity helps me with my own work. I want to achieve the lingering, immense sensitivity of Virginia Woolf, while creating a very real, unapologetic landscape that the reader can’t help but be effected by, as McCarthy does.
If we go way back into some of the first books I ever read and loved, the books that made me want to write even as I was ten or twelve, I’d say Jack London’s Call of the Wild was a big one, and of course as a little Canadian girl I was very much seduced by Leonard Cohen…his writing, music, and public persona made being a poet seem like a fantastical thing.
TTQ – At what point in your life did you become comfortable with calling yourself a poet?
Robin Richardson – I got into Sarah Lawrence’s graduate writing program within the same three months that I got a book deal with Insomniac Press for my first collection of poems, Grunt of the Minotaur. Before then I’d done readings and was getting into journals fairly regularly but those two factors made it clear to me that it was safe to start calling myself a poet…though I still use the term sparingly as it tends to be a bit of a conversation killer. Most people take the word “poet” to be synonymous with “unemployed.”
TTQ – What was your experience like studying at Sarah Lawrence, and to what extent do you feel that experience has made you a better poet/writer?
Robin Richardson - Studying at Sarah Lawrence was without a doubt one of the best things I’ve done for my writing. The program allows students to have frequent one-on-one time with faculty members, in addition to the scheduled class time. I was able to go over my work and talk craft intimately with some of my favourite writers and teachers including Matthea Harvey, Stephen Dobyns, Suzanne Gardinier etc. This time was invaluable. In addition to the required craft classes and workshops, the program allows graduate students to audit any graduate or undergraduate classes that they want, in any discipline, provided the class isn’t full. There are also frequent free talks from editors, agents, writers, scholars etc…offered almost daily in the graduate house.
Aside from these obvious academic perks, I also found that being surrounded by people who were as passionate as I am about poetry helped instil optimism in me, that there are readers out there who care deeply about the art. This really helps when I start to slip into wondering if poetry might be a futile endeavour.
TTQ – How invaluable was the advice given to you by some of the speakers who gave free talks at the graduate house, and was there a common theme or mantra that you took away from those talks that has helped you become a better poet/writer?
Robin Richardson – There was never a common theme or mantra provided by the speakers and professors at Sarah Lawrence. I think that’s what was so valuable about it. There was an overwhelming diversity in the views and lecture styles of everyone whom I worked with while I was attending. I was exposed to so many strong opinions, which very often stood in direct opposition to one another. While one speaker stressed the importance of networking and strategic publishing, another would forcefully insist that the only thing a writer should be concerned with should be the craft of writing itself. Hearing accomplished authors, editors, and publishers disagree with such polarity helped free me up from the notion that there was any single correct way to approach writing. I let their words wash over me and I came out with a stronger sense of my own perspective on writing in all of its facets.
TTQ – What differences did you find between the poetry communities of New York and Toronto?
Robin Richardson – The main difference between New York's literary scene and Toronto's is size. Toronto is small enough that everyone knows everyone within a short span of time. I've never been to a reading in Toronto where I didn't recognize at least half of the poets/writers there. New York still has a bit of that community sense, but is large enough that there is much more variety in both readers and audience members.
TTQ – What turns you on creatively, spiritually and emotionally?
Robin Richardson - I can’t really think of anything that doesn’t have the capacity of getting me riled up. The fact that I exist at all is pretty damned dumbfounding, so every minute of this craziness is a huge turn on. Yay! I’m one of the random, happy “accidents” who get to tramp around this world.
TTQ – Your debut collection of poetry is called Grunt of the Minotaur (Insomniac Press, 2011). How did you come up with the title and is there a specific meaning behind it?
Robin Richardson – I had a hard time coming up with a title so my editor, Paul Vermeersch, and I sat down one day and searched through the poems in the collection for something that might make a good title. We made a few lists, crossed out a few options, and sat with what was left for several weeks. Grunt of the Minotaur was what came out of that process. I think Paul was the one to spot it first. It’s the last few words of the poem Citing Dimensions of Mad and Mundane Council on page 17.
Once we settled on it as a title I started really thinking about the words on their own outside of the poem, and I think it works really well with the book, which has a lot of labyrinthine entanglement and nitty-gritty monster moments. I also really love the Minotaur as both a savage and somewhat sympathetic character. He was the bastard son of Pasiphaë, King Minos’ wife, and was the result of adulterous bestiality. When King Minos received the gift of a beautiful, white bull from Poseidon and refused to kill it in Posieden’s honour, Aphrodite cast a spell on Pasiphaë, which made her fall deeply in love with the bull. Pasiphaë donned a wooden cow suit and made love to the bull, resulting in the conception of the Minotaur.
I’m now a bit obsessed with this story and plan to integrate it somehow into my newer work.
TTQ – Were all the poems contained in Grunt of the Minotaur a compilation of your life's work to date, and how difficult was the process of deciding which poems would be published in the book and what would be left out?
Robin Richardson – It wasn’t too difficult a process. Luckily, for now, my work seems to be improving over time. It was clear that the newer work in the book was generally better than the older work. I simply cut out anything that was weak, and replaced it with something newer and hopefully better. I’m not the type to get attached to my own poems, so if it’s not up to snuff I have no problem trashing it. The point is to create a good book.
TTQ – Who helped you with editing Grunt of the Minotaur and what was that experience like for you?
Robin Richardson – Paul Vermeesch was the main editor of the book. I really lucked out because he took the time to walk me through the process, letting me know what to expect while the book was being put together, as well as once it came out. At the time the manuscript was accepted I had little to no official poetry education, though I had been published in journals here and there, and done workshops and public readings. Paul was extremely patient with me, acting as a mentor as much as an editor.
TTQ – Your poem 'Didac' from Grunt of the Minotaur was published in The Toronto Quarterly and is a personal favourite of mine. What is the story behind that poem?
Robin Richardson – Didac is about a man I boarded with in Barcelona for a few months when I was about eighteen. He was a painter, and the owner of a four bedroom flat in the Gothic Quarter, which he generally rented out to artists and students. I lived there with him, a German mountain climber, a Columbian film student, and a Spanish philosopher who’d just completed his Master’s in Los Angeles. Everyone in the apartment spoke Spanish except me, for that, among other reasons, tensions in the apartment rose quickly.
In the poem Didac I took the very real event of Didac bathing with the door open, in clear view of the dinner table as we ate. I thought this moment was so odd and surreal and wanted to use it as the starting point for writing about what it felt like to be alone and slightly disoriented in a strange land.
I’ve since been back to Barcelona and had a much more pleasant experience this time around, as I shared a flat with two very talented artists and two adorable Persian cats.
TTQ – Do you have a favourite poem from your book that you like best or enjoy reading most when you're out doing poetry readings and various promotional events?
Robin Richardson – I really enjoy reading the poem When Paying Visits of Condolence out loud. It’s a fairly dark poem and a bit visceral. I find it casts an interesting mood over the room when I read it. It’s like I was saying before, it seems to become an object of its own, so that through its recitation I’ve spun a gloomy little ball and thrown it into the audience.
WHEN PAYING VISITS OF CONDOLENCE
To courteously desire the deceased,
one should be dressed in silk,
be slight of word, coo, pretend to give a kiss
when sniffing the seasoned marrow.
Like a mule, brush the rug with suede,
tap the pound cake, clutch
pie, caramelized to hide the taste.
If foul play is suspected, flood the glass
with cognac, keep rumours to a hush.
The doorframe cramped with hands
and winter hats at hooks like hangmen. To lick
the velvet pouch, let a hand slip down
past the necktie, is the failure of a man
to keep his starched and eggshell grin in place.
Think not of flowerbeds, though far
and harmless. It's rude to couple
where the buried bruise the pebbled hills.
TTQ – How would you best describe your writing style?
Robin Richardson - That’s tough. I try to keep my words rooted in the tangible so that I can get away with some fairly far off, surreal ideas. I use a lot of concrete nouns and verbs and try to avoid too many abstractions. Sound and rhythm are paramount, as is an appeal to the senses. I want my poems to become objects. There’s a book I’m reading right now Today I Wrote Nothing by Daniil Kharms, in which I’ve found a passage that best describes the sort of thing I want from my own work, It isn’t just words or thoughts printed on paper, it is the thing as real as a crystal inkwell standing in front of me on the table. It seems that these verses have become a thing, and one can take them off the page and throw them at the window, and the window would break. That’s what words can do.
TTQ – What is your favourite word and why?
Robin Richardson – Yikes, there are so many beautiful words. Right now I’m hung up on the word ampersand. 1) Because it sounds lovely. 2) Because it summons that very beautiful shape: &.
TTQ – How important is reading your poetry in front of a live audience and what is that experience like for you personally?
Robin Richardson – Lately, I’m finding reading my work in front of an audience to be more and more important. It gives an immediate sense of how the poem is working and allows me to get out of the bubble I exist in when I’m working, and out into the social world for a change. I’ve also discovered lately that a poet really has the capacity to teach the reader how to read his or her work. John Berryman is a good example of this. I’d read the Dream Songs and was a big fan, but after I saw a YouTube video of Berryman reading Dream Song #29 everything changed. I feel like I understand him on a whole other level and have since reread the book, using Berryman’s unique oral cadence as a guide.
TTQ – What is your writing process like and do you write poetry every day or only when you feel inspired?
Robin Richardson – Generally, I write every day for at least three hours. First thing in the morning I eat a decent sized breakfast and then head out to a nearby café for at least two hours where I will either: compose, edit, read, or take notes…anything that contributes to my work. Once I’ve put in those initial hours I feel free to get on with the rest of my day, which may or may not involve another big writing session towards the evening.
TTQ – How important is alcohol to you and your writing process?
Robin Richardson – I write horribly when I’m drunk, though, I do love a nice glass of whiskey while I’m working. Not enough to get fuzzy, just enough to warm the chest and keep me starry-eyed. Like I said though, I do most of my writing in the morning, at which time a big cup of black coffee, no sugar, does the trick.
TTQ – What was your favourite book of 2011 and why?
Robin Richardson – There are so many! I’m gonna go with Timothy Donnelly’s The Cloud Corporation, mainly because it’s in my line of sight right now and I was just flipping through it again the other day for inspiration. It’s well-crafted, rich, and so diverse in form and content, I feel like I get more value out of it per page than I do out of almost any other contemporary collection of poems.
TTQ – Would you consider yourself a feminist or political activist, and do you think poets of today should lend their voices more often to protest events like for example: Occupy Toronto?
Robin Richardson – No and no. I do have strong values and opinions and I hope that they reveal themselves naturally through my work.
TTQ – What profession other than your own would you like to attempt one day and why?
Robin Richardson – Between the ages of five and fifteen I was a competitive gymnast. I grew out of it and it’s way too late to go back, but if I could, I would very much like to be a practicing gymnast or dance again. Cirque du Soleil was always a dream of mine.
TTQ – What's next for Robin Richardson?
Robin Richardson – I’m well into my second collection of poems that includes a long narrative about a volcano-dwelling Ogre called, Dzoavits, and his new obsession with a five-year-old girl named, Thora. It’s very dark and dirty, and filled with fun taboos.
Saturday, 25 February 2012
Anna Yin is an IT Geek and poet, who was born in China and immigrated to Canada in 1999. Her passion for poetry blossomed shortly thereafter. She won the 2005 Ted Plantos Memorial Award and 2010 MARTY Award for her poetry, along with other awards. In 2011, her debut collection of poetry Wings Toward Sunlight was published by Mosaic Press. She is an honoured member of the League of Canadian Poets. CBC Radio has interviewed her on two occasions, and her poems written in both English & Chinese, along with ten translations, were published in a Canadian Studies’ textbook used by Humber College. Her Poetry Alive events have been a new approach to helping people explore and appreciate poetry, and Rogers TV Daytime show invited her on their show to talk about "how to write poems." She was a finalist for Canada's Top 25 Canadian Immigrants Awards in 2011 and is again a finalist in 2012. Anna holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Nanjing University and a Creative Writing Certificate from the University of Toronto. She works in an IT company and lives in Mississauga.
For more information, visit Anna Yin at her website.
I Often Dream of Fish
Wake up surprised
by my nudity.
Fish is a symbol for sex,
a specialist explains;
she offers a miserable look.
Distressed, I remember
removing all belongings
Lying beside my lover,
quiet and gleaming,
my lover is a river.
Yet in my dreams,
there is only one fish,
no river, no water.
We Could Live to One Hundred Fifty
His face lights up as he speaks
of humanity’s bright future.
His eager tongue twisted with a hook—
yet, most do not have enough to live on.
I am just an indifferent fish,
not concerned with extended life.
Air is what I swallow.
At present, I need only this.
I stare across our busy street —
time is the flow of waste and confusion.
The river grows shallow and shallower.
He fails to see, or pretends he doesn’t.
Some fish live for living,
others live for love.
I pass him a stale onion—
the one my ex-lover passed to me, saying
This is all I could save.
Window and Mirror
Window pleads to Mirror:
“Let us ally.
I watch outside;
you look inside. “
Mirror stands silent.
Window closes himself within.
A rock thrown in
breaks the window
and shatters the mirror.
The mirror reflects a pale broken face.
The rock lies inert on the floor.
The window, now open,
winds blow through.
TTQ - When did you decide to start writing poetry, and at what point in your life did you decide to try submitting your poetry for publication? Who were some of your early influences or mentors?
Anna Yin - Life is full of surprises. I never knew I could fall in love with poetry. I started writing for the mere purpose of improving my English. First, I wrote in a diary to record my son’s growth. But soon after, poetry found me. Like Rumi said, "Not only the thirsty seek the water, the water as well seeks the thirsty." I remember one night in 2003, after I read the story The Emperor’s New Clothes to my three-year old son, I felt very sad and wanted to write. It came as a poem. I was glad and posted it on a Chinese forum, where Chinese immigrants discussed daily life issues and how to learn English. Someone read my post and asked me if I was really a Chinese immigrant. He said that he didn’t believe a Chinese immigrant could write an English poem. The person became my friend and encouraged me to continue. At my book launch, I invited him and shared this story with the audience.
Anyway, the first poem let me recognize writing could be a good tool to vent our hidden emotions, and by thinking inwardly, one could be aware of one’s true self. The child in The Emperor’s New Clothes had the courage to tell the truth. So I asked myself, who am I? Why did I feel so sad and lost? It was not easy to find the answer. Eventually, I knew what I truly want. Several years later, when I encountered Rumi’s line: the water as well seeks the thirsty. I recognized this applied to me. Since then I kept writing poetry every week. If I didn’t write a poem for an entire week, I would feel uneasy.
Writing opened up a whole new world for me and also introduced me to other poets. I.B. Iskov, the founder of the Ontario poetry society invited me to submit my poems to her Outreaching newspaper and published four of my poems. This really encouraged me. A year later, she recommended me for the 2005 Ted Plantos Memory Award. I like to think of Bunny as my earliest mentor. I also have other mentors who greatly encouraged me and supported me. John B. Lee (the judge of the award) told me, "you are a fine young poet." You can imagine how happy I was to hear that. Terry Barker from Humber College, who I met after I edited and published his friend James Dealh’s poem in a Chinese/English poetry magazine, became my good mentor and book editor as well.
There have been many influences on my work, I think. The greatest influence has been from Chinese traditional poetry, and from western poetry, especially that of Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath.
TTQ - Your debut collection of poetry Wings Towards Sunlight provides readers with a unique take on both Canadian and Chinese culture. How would you best describe your debut collection of poetry Wings towards Sunlight and was there a deliberate attempt on your part to bridge the gap between both cultures?
Anna Yin - I never intended to write something to bridge cultures. I guess it comes to me naturally. After immigrating, especially after I began writing, I discovered two sides of me. One side is close and practical. The other side is open, and willing to take risks. These two sides are entwined in my poems. My different traits and oriental mystery play a role in my poetry. I inherited the way of Chinese traditional poetry of using images to imply feelings which maintain Chinese poetry’s characters: compact, concrete and imagistic. I have also adopted western culture’s direct and bold way of expressing feelings. I think Chinese culture and Taoism is lying under my consciousness; through my poems, here and there, now and then transcendence occurs. The more one reads my poems, the more one perceives.
TTQ - I have read that words come easy to you and that you can write most of your poems in 10 or 20 minutes. Would it be correct in assuming that writing poetry comes easy for you or are there many poems that you have found painstaking to complete? Do you have a certain writing process that you try to stick to and feel works best for you?
Anna Yin - I guess I am lucky: it was poetry that found me. Words and images come easy to me and I can get inspiration from anything: fish or birds, window or mirror, rain or snow, things from our ordinary life. My first draft of a poem usually takes 10 to 20 minutes. I seldom have writer’s block or am in another word, I may have writer’s block, but I just don’t feel it. I guess it is because I allow myself to freely write and enjoy playing with ideas and images. I like challenge and enjoy the creative process. Although I have a full time IT position and have a young child to take care of, I always try to manage to squeeze in writing for 10 or 20 minutes every day. Sometimes for hours and I don’t feel tired. When I don’t have new poems, I will read other poets’ poetry and review my old ones to choose some potential ones to work on. In the case of “Toronto, No More Weeping” I revised it more than 20 times. It was my earliest poem and was aired on CBC radio in 2005, and today I know it still has much room to improve. I don’t have a certain writing process, but I always treat writing as a free-floating experience, and I am like Alice in wonderland. I just enjoy writing and reading. I truly agree with Emily Dickinson’s words: "The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience."
But I did have a painful experience once. It was in 2007. At that time I wanted to continue writing, but I felt I had come to my limit. I tried to give up and thought I’d better concentrate on my IT job. So, for a whole week, I didn’t write anything. That week became very tough for me. I was lost and sad. Finally I wrote a poem “Farewell to Sunflower” as my farewell poem, but only found I could not say farewell. The poem awakened me, and I decided to never quit again.
TTQ - How important is reading your poetry in front of a live audience, and in what ways do you feel this has helped you to become a better poet?
Anna Yin - It is important. I really admire those who can read well. I have a long way to go. I need to improve a lot, and fully grasp the reading skills necessary to better present the essence of my poems. But I am also glad to grasp any chance to try, and thankfully audiences are very kind and patient. Because of my weakness in verbal English, I designed Poetry Alive to help me read poetry, and promote the beauty and power of poetry. I am an IT professional. So, I combine computer arts and poetry reading to make it interesting and interactive. From my own experience, I understand the beauty and the power of poetry is from life. It should not become an isolative art in the academic world. So, my Poetry Alive event is designed to help ordinary people to appreciate poetry. Meanwhile, through these interactive Poetry Alive events and interpretations from audiences, I've learned more about what poetry really means.
TTQ - What words of advice would you give those who have immigrated to Canada from another country and would like to pursue a career in writing/poetry with English as their second language? What writing project are you currently working on?
Anna Yin - I would like to give them the same advice that others gave to me: “Don’t fear to be yourself. Listen to your own voice but also keep an open mind. Try and enjoy it.”
A lot of my friends are amazed that I continue writing after so many of them gave up. I guess for me, I cannot give up because I know how much I was thirsty before and how happy I have become myself. Writing is healing for me; it provides a connection between me and nature. It is also an amazing journey and makes me feel alive. I am glad that Roy MacGregor perceived this and said, "she is a fine writer with a true feel for the power of nature and the healing strength of wildness."
I will continue writing for sure. Currently, I am working on my second poetry book Inhale the Silence. After that, I will plan a third one which will be a collection of haiku with photos. I think I will continue to challenge myself and enjoy a life of poetry.
Saturday, 18 February 2012
Kateri Lanthier was born in Toronto and has lived in St. Catharines, Sudbury and Kingston. She has a BA and MA in English from the University of Toronto. After working as an editor in educational publishing, she became a freelance writer for magazines, television, and the web, specializing in design, architecture, decorative arts and fine art. Her poetry has been published in literary journals and magazines in Canada, the United States, and England, including Descant, Grain, Matrix, The Antigonish Review, Acta Victoriana, The U.C. Review, The Greenfield Review, Saturday Night, Quarry, The Toronto Quarterly, Writing Women and London Magazine. Her first collection of poetry, Reporting from Night, was published by Iguana Books in December 2011. She lives in Toronto’s Beach neighborhood with her husband and three children.
Lanthier's life has come full circle. With many of her poems having appeared in numerous literary journals and magazines during her teens and 20's, one would have first thought Reporting from Night would be just another on a long list of literary accomplishments, but marriage and the responsibility of raising three children compromised the publishing of this exquisite debut collection. As the title suggests, many of the poems refer to the surreal night flowering of memory and imagination. That's quite a mouthful, but Lanthier's poetry also possesses a unique clarity that is not only inventive and precise, but also suggests that she was indeed in full control of her faculties, even though much of this collection was apparently written while sleep-deprived and in the dead of night.
Oscar Wilde at the City Auditorium
(Belleville, Ontario, 1882)
The next night, she swung an orange lamp
of lilies in flared-lip circles through the garden.
Her tortoiseshell comb
barely held on by the teeth.
Gossiping near the bonfire, green leaves,
scorched, censored themselves.
She won't go in.
She will wear a porcupine quill
behind one ear, or prick a finger to let fall
a red drop on the red floor of pine.
Her secrets are scrolled in birchbark,
posted in the rose bed to an underground province.
An emerald moth has flattened itself on the window
like a set of poisoned lungs.
A woman weary of such parlour tricks,
she has brought in his head, once again,
on a silver salver:
She will permit
his fortune-teller's palm on her breast
but this evening she sees his fingers
curved and lined, a scallop shell,
a platform for Beauty.
The Victorian houses in Toronto's Annex
were long ago redeemed. Bought for a folk song
they now rent out at cruel rates.
The dandelions on the lawn
are not long for this uprooting world.
Like a field of philosophers
their bright ideas have gone up in smoke,
the only consolation of their art
the thought of their thoughts seeding abroad,
up, up and away...
Where are the radical summers?
The fashions are back.
Platform shoes raise the idealistic
a few inches above the pavement.
Shoulders and hair slump
in eco gloom.
I recall the thunder of Riders on the Storm
in the submarine-schoolbus of hippie camp.
Felt pens for never-finished mandala posters,
paper sunbursts, fingers implicated
by indigo tie-dye.
The agit-prop of story-book theatre.
Et in Arcadio ego.
Circling the campfire, we held hands,
sending a ring pulse, swaying in a trance
to melt down selfish private thoughts.
Singing against fears of bears, mosquitoes, lightning,
the military-industrial complex.
A muddle of flower children
in a split-stem chain.
One harsh day, we spray-painted stones
in orange and silver, like makeup in Seventeen.
We daydreamed about hurling them
through the black-out curtains of our old-school
school, beneath the heavily framed queen
who reigned over our class.
The focal point of the photograph
was her narrow waist. The garden of her dress
stood corrected by her wasp-nest hair.
She offered pale, empty hands.
TTQ - When did you decide to start writing poetry and who were some of your early influences and mentors?
Kateri Lanthier - I began writing poems when I was a child. I was reading at age two, which apparently distressed my mother, who worried I’d be some sort of prodigy. Determined to keep her fretting, I started writing poems when I was in grade school in northern Ontario and won a few prizes in a regional poetry contest. To my amazement, after we moved to Kingston, some poems were accepted by Quarry Magazine—my supportive Grade 8 teacher had sent them in. The editor invited me to become a member of the Kingston Writers’ Association, where I met Bronwen Wallace, among other writers. They used to introduce me at readings by saying, “Not only is she under the drinking age, she’s under the driving age.” A few more of my poems were accepted by Quarry, and then, when I was 17, Poetry Canada Review published nine poems and an interview with me—by that time we had moved to Toronto. While I was an undergrad and grad student at the University of Toronto, my poems were published in the U.C. Review and Acta Victoriana, and over the following years my poems were accepted by many journals, including Grain, The Antigonish Review, Saturday Night and Descant (where I was also on the editorial board for a time—I’m grateful to the editor, Karen Mulhallen, for that opportunity). I was delighted when Alan Ross accepted one of my poems for London Magazine. A manuscript was emerging—I had a Works-in-Progress grant from the Ontario Arts Council, which helped and encouraged me. But, in retrospect, that manuscript was nebulous, not quite a book.
After I got married, in my early ‘30s, I gradually stopped writing poetry and began earning a living by writing for magazines, newspapers and television about design, decorative arts and architecture. I felt the loss of privacy acutely. The solitude that seemed essential for writing poetry was gone—I couldn’t seem to retreat into my own thoughts. Lines of poetry started to flow again after I gave birth to my first and then second child, and then to cascade after I had my third. Perhaps it’s just that I was half-mad with exhaustion, but my brainwaves seemed to change. I read poetry in the middle of the night while nursing the baby, and wrote lines on scraps of paper while I perched on the edge of a sandbox or stopped pushing the stroller in order to scribble in a notebook. That’s often what I must do now, still—write around the children. At the same time, though, their words and perspectives, their creative energy, inspire me. My first collection has finally been published, and absolutely no-one would call me a prodigy now. A late bloomer, if I’m lucky.
My early literary influences included Stevens, Bishop, Lowell, Plath, Strand, Beckett, Joyce, Heaney, Muldoon, Auden, Larkin, Ondaatje, MacEwan. I still read them, along with many others (I have very diverse tastes): Notley, Szymborska, Carson, Mouré, the newer generation of poets publishing in England and the U.S, in particular, Hofmann, Greenlaw and Maxwell, and, recently, Equi, Robbins and Harvey, and the usual suspects I’ve read since university--Shakespeare, Donne, Blake, Yeats. (To return to childhood for a moment, I treasured the copy my grandparents gave me, when I was about 10, of The New Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1950--a formal anthology, not really meant for children, but I adored it.) I read as much new work by Canadian poets, novelists and short-story writers as I can. I fell behind when it came to reading my contemporaries around the time I stopped writing poetry. I’m trying to catch up now but it’s a huge undertaking, given the blossoming of small-press publishing.
TTQ - How would you best describe your debut collection of poetry Reporting from Night and would it be safe to assume that most of the poems were written while you were suffering from sleep deprivation?
Kateri Lanthier - It’s hard to characterize one’s own work—and mine is only one interpretation, after all--but I’d say that the poems in Reporting from Night are playful and imagistic, some bit teasing, some obliquely political, many with an undercurrent of sadness. Some have a sharp twist. Most engage with surrealism. There is a mix of forms—most of the newer poems are short and somewhat fragmented, while the older ones have clearer narrative structures. There’s one sonnet. The natural and the urban are wriggling around each other and challenging each other all through it. And the voices and views of children inform many of the poems.
For the most part, because of my family responsibilities, I write late at night. My children are still quite young, so, yes, I’m often somewhat sleep-deprived when I’m working on a poem. (The title of the book is, in part, a wry reference to that.) But I edit the poems when I’m more alert. Night air seeped into this book, I think. I’m still exploring the topic—these days, I’m writing poems about night workers and the 24-hour cycle.
TTQ - Reporting from Night is formatted in two sections, Earth's Familiar Objects and Who Is Us. What is the primary theme of each section? I've also selected one poem from each section that stood out to me and I'm wondering if you could talk about what inspired each of them. The first poem is "Oscar Wilde at the City Auditorium" and the second is "In Arcadia."
Kateri Lanthier - The poems in the first part, Earth’s Familiar Objects, deal with natural elements and urban grit, try to tackle nostalgia and its hazards, and revolve around the epigraph from a wonderful poem by Piotr Sommer: “All memory we owe to objects.” The poems in the second part, Who is Us, are mainly about childhood—my own and my observations of my children’s experiences—about definitions of self in early adulthood, and, somewhat indirectly, about marriage. The book contains poems written over two decades. They’re intermingled in both parts. I edited some of the early ones considerably—it was almost as if they’d been written by someone else. I gave them stern looks, even those that had been published—if I felt no connection to them, either they didn’t make it in or they had to be overhauled. It could have been a longer book if I’d included more of the earlier poems, but I wanted the collection to reflect my current style.
You’ve chosen two of the older poems to discuss. I wrote “Oscar Wilde at the City Auditorium” after reading Ellmann’s biography. I was thinking about Wilde and various other writers who went on speaking tours of “the colonies”—the precursor of the modern book tour, in some ways—and of how moved or startled an audience member might be after attending such a lecture. There’s the dawning sense of emancipation, the reference to Salome, certainly the influence of the Aesthetic Movement. I wanted to bring those elements into a small-town Canadian setting to see how they’d play out in a poem.
After the Arab Spring and the emergence of the Occupy Movement, the poem “In Arcadia” seems even more of a period piece to me—I wrote it during the ‘90s recession, when the “radical summers” seemed distant and almost quaint. I attended a couple of day camps in Sudbury much like the one in the poem—vaguely hippy camps at which the teenage counselors, who were either blasé or bright-eyed and idealistic, had us tie-dye t-shirts and spray-paint rocks (neither activity being particularly eco-friendly—and the rocks were absurd). I remember the summers fondly, though—we were out in “the bush” and it was beautiful, that scrubby, rocky wilderness, with teenagers blasting rock music from their transistor radios. And when I was at U of T, the Annex was in transition from the post-Rochdale years of multiple apartments crammed into dilapidated Victorian houses to the new wave of renovations and rising rents. The gentrification even then was starting to make it harder for students to get by, but the tuition was still quite low. I was dismayed by the rise of the neo-con movement. And look at it now…The poem takes a fairly light approach, but I do bring it back to the monarchy at the end (much as I do in the poem “Royal Icing”) and lay some of the blame right in those pale empty hands.
TTQ - Who helped you with the editing process for Reporting from Night and what has your relationship been like with your publisher Iguana Books?
Kateri Lanthier - My editor is a poet and novelist whose work I admire and for whom I have great respect. He prefers to remain anonymous (it’s always his preference when performing the role of editor), so I can’t disclose his name. I was thrilled to work with him and couldn’t have asked for a better editor.
The poet Gary Barwin helped me in the early stages of preparing the book—he read some of the newer poems and gave me some helpful feedback. His encouragement came at a crucial stage for me. The poets Catherine Graham and Mark Truscott both read the manuscript and offered insightful comments and much-appreciated encouragement, too. I’m grateful as well to the artist Douglas Walker for giving me permission to use one of his paintings on the cover. We met when I interviewed him for a magazine. I’m in awe of his work.
Iguana Books is a start-up, a brand-new entity launched at the end of November 2011. A first book from a new, unknown publishing house faces some unique challenges, but I’ve been especially pleased with how widely the book appears on the websites of booksellers around the world—the big names and many smaller ones. The publisher, Greg Ioannou, has decades of experience as an editor, working on both fiction and non-fiction. He launched Iguana as an e-publishing house, primarily, although he has produced print versions of some of the titles. The e-book version of Reporting from Night was actually available before the print version. As everyone in publishing knows, this is a time of enormous change. One thing I like is that my book can be ordered from pretty much any bookshop, small or large. (The distributor is Ingram.) You can get a copy of it and still support your favourite local shop.
TTQ - How important is reading your new poetry first in front of a live audience and is that a key component of your writing process?
Kateri Lanthier - I love reading other people’s poetry silently, on my own—I crave that private experience. Once I’m familiar with a poem, I like to hear the poet read it—whether at a live reading or in a recording—the audio resources available online now are stunning. Sometimes it’s a revelation to encounter a really good poem first at a reading—to hear it unfold with no sense (unless the poet has tipped you off beforehand) of how long it will be, of where it might be going. It can be breathtaking. I recently heard my friend Nyla Matuk read one of her new poems and the audience was enthralled—I was, too—it built in such a stealthy yet steady way that the experience of hearing it read aloud first was one I’ll long remember. When I’m editing one of my own poems, I always read it aloud—first to myself (making changes as I hear the need for them) and then, often, reading it to my children—mainly because they’re a convenient captive audience!—and occasionally to my husband. Reading aloud seems an essential step in making sure that the rhythms are progressing properly and that there aren’t any unintended tongue-twisters. I’m not a performance poet, and, for the most part, I want the work to be able to reach someone who is simply reading it silently, although I also hope it will reach people when read aloud. I used to give readings frequently when I was at university and afterwards, but have only just started giving some again—there are a few coming up this year, which I’m excited about. It’s a privilege to read to people. I’ve been accumulating new work that I hope is both more daring and more complex, and I’m eager to see what an audience thinks of it.
Monday, 6 February 2012
Toronto Star and the Toronto Public Library
set to launch Canada’s biggest short story contest
Do you think you’ve got a good story to tell?
If you do, there’s a prestigious writing contest that offers you a chance to tell that story to readers across Canada, to earn a lucrative cash prize and to study with some of the most experienced creative writing teachers in the country.
Starting Saturday, January 7, aspiring writers and authors can enter the Toronto Star’s 2012 Short Story Contest, one of the largest in North America.
The contest, which is now in its 34th year and is open to all Ontario residents aged 16 and older, attracted nearly 2,100 entries last year. Previous winners have come from all parts of the province and from a wide range of personal and work-related backgrounds.
The winner of the contest will receive a grand prize of $5,000 plus the tuition fee for the 30-week creative writing correspondence program at the Humber School for Writers, worth approximately $3,000. In addition, the second-place winner will receive a prize of $2,000 and the third-place winner will receive $1,000.
For the third consecutive year, the Toronto Public Library is a partner with the Star in presenting the contest. “The library is very pleased to join the Star in encouraging writers of this wonderful literary form. We know there are thousands of stories waiting to be told, and we wish all this year’s entrants the best of luck,” said Jane Pyper, city librarian of the Toronto Public Library.
The Humber School for Writers is also a partner in the contest.
The judges for the 2012 contest are Jessica Westhead, author of the short story collection And Also Sharks; Jane Pyper, city librarian of the Toronto Public Library; Richard Ouzounian, theatre critic for the Toronto Star and author of six books; and Dianne Rinehart, the Star’s books editor.
The winners will be announced in April during the library’s Keep Toronto Reading Festival. . Their stories will be published in the Toronto Star.
Deadline for submitting entries is Feb. 26, 2012. Stories must be written in English and must not exceed 2,500 words. Please click here for the full contest rules.
About the Toronto Star
The Toronto Star, founded in 1892, is read in print and online (thestar.com) by 3.0 million readers every week. The Toronto Star is a division of Star Media Group, which includes Toronto.com, Torstar Syndication Services, The Grid, Sway Magazine and The Canadian Immigrant. Star Media Group also includes the jointly owned Metro free daily newspapers in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Halifax, and the Chinese language newspaper Sing Tao. Star Media Group is a division of Toronto Star Newspapers Limited, which is a subsidiary of Torstar Corporation.
About Toronto Public Library
Toronto Public Library is the world’s business urban public library system. Every year, more than 18 million people visit our branches in neighbourhoods across the city and borrow over 32 million items.
For more information, please contact:
Director, Community Relations and Communications
Edward Karek, Communications Officer
Toronto Public Library
Saturday, 4 February 2012
Leonard Cohen's first studio release in over eight years, Old Ideas, is a throwback album, reawakening the poetic genius of yesteryear, and personifying the familiar and sombre themes of God, desire, misanthropy, despair, love, hope, regret, and betrayal. Not to be misconstrued as a whining lament of his hometown Montreal Canadians, Cohen instead reaches into the depths of his own darkened tower, reflecting on the events that left him nearly penniless in 2005, and back on the road crooning for his supper.
Cohen, now a refined 77-year-old singer/songwriter, has always managed to expertly find the proper juxtaposition between his literature and music. His deep-throated growl is superbly displayed and has never sounded better.
Plagued throughout his life with severe bouts of depression, one can only sense that the past few years have been the worst of times. Cohen's search for enlightenment almost seems too much for him to bare, as he writes in Amen:
Tell me again
When I’ve been to the river
And I’ve taken the edge off my thirst
Tell me again
We’re alone & I’m listening
I’m listening so hard that it hurts
Tell me again
When I’m clean and I’m sober
Tell me again
When I’ve seen through the horror
Tell me again
Tell me over and over
Tell me you want me then
Cohen is no stranger to questioning his own mortality, and there is a sense after listening to the album a couple of times, that Cohen has not given up on somehow striking a balance in his life.
In the opening track, Going Home, a lighthearted Cohen manages to poke fun at himself, suggesting he is far from being the demigod many portray him to be, but merely, "a sportsman and a shepherd, and a lazy bastard living in a suit."
I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit
But he does say what I tell him
Even though it isn’t welcome
He will never have the freedom
He will speak these words of wisdom
Like a sage, a man of vision
Though he knows he’s really nothing
But the brief elaboration of a tube
Without my sorrow
To where it’s better
Without my burden
Behind the curtain
Without the costume
That I wore
He wants to write a love song
An anthem of forgiving
A manual for living with defeat
A cry above the suffering
A sacrifice recovering
But that isn’t what I want him to complete
I want to make him certain
That he doesn’t have a burden
That he doesn’t need a vision
That he only has permission
To do my instant bidding
That is to SAY what I have told him
Without my sorrow
To where it’s better
Without my burden
Behind the curtain
Without the costume
That I wore
I love to speak with Leonard
He’s a sportsman and a shepherd
He’s a lazy bastard
Living in a suit
*Note - Photo of Leonard Cohen by Alex Sturrock.