In celebration of the release of Measures of Astonishment: Poets on Poetry, Jeanelle Mandes from the University of Regina Press sat down with Gregory Scofield, Anne Simpson, Marilyn Bowering and Glen Sorestad, who are four of the 13 contributors fromMeasures of Astonishment: Poets on Poetry. They talked about the poets’ aspirations, how long they’ve been writing poetry, how they deal with writer’s block, and their upcoming new work.
Our next poet is Marilyn Bowering. She is a poet and novelist who lives in British Columbia. Her most recent works are Soul Mouth (poetry), What It Takes To Be Human (novel), and the libretti (see Quebecite, 2003). Read on to find out what inspires Marilyn to write.
Join us at the Measures of Astonishment launch on Friday, June 17 at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.
How long have you been writing poetry?
I published the Liberation of Newfoundland—a small book of poetry and photographs—in 1973. The poems draw on history, family stories and dreams. I was interested in their overlap of imagery –and I still am!
What inspires you to write poetry?
A need to understand something or a strong emotion usually sets off a poem. Sometimes a line or a few words will come into my mind and I’ll follow it and see where it goes. I also like thinking about larger narrative subjects. I’ve written, for instance, about World War I and my grandfather, about Laika, the dog in space; about Marilyn Monroe; and most recently poems, “Threshold”, inspired by a 17th century female Scottish bard, Mary Macleod.
Are there any young poets that inspire you? If so, who, and why?
I taught for many years and so I keep an eye on ex-students and like to see what they are publishing. I don’t want to single out any of these—a number are very talented and making their mark. In general, I’m inspired by young poets who aren’t afraid to use the techniques of poetry to explore, who understand that poetry is language and a way of thinking unlike anything else, and who spend more time with ideas than ideology.
Any new publications that you’re currently working on?
I am finishing a novel, The Swimmer’s Tale, and have a book of poems (with illustrations) called “Woof at the Door, Woof” in the works.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I go outside; go for a walk or climb a hill; give myself space from feeling I have to write. Solutions appear when my attention is diverted (or in the middle of the night.)
Briefly summarize what your chapter in Measures of Astonishment (Anne Szumigalski lecture) was about.
“Rediscovering Ancient Springs” is a look at creativity and its relationship to metaphor by using metaphors and analogical thinking. It is, in its structure, an illustration of the process I am trying to describe. I use memory of specific events to show where some of my work springs from and connect this to the continuity and community of poetry, at large. I think.
Anything that I missed that you would like to add?
I remember a conversation I had with Dorothy Livesay when I was young. At the time she lived near me and I used to visit her. Once, having stayed up all night to write, I took her a poem—and told her that I’d stayed up all night to write it. She said, “Oh, do you still do that?” which surprised me. We talked about how the way poems came to her had changed over time. I’d never before imagined there was another way to write poetry other than obsessively, and that poetry could become like a stream, sometimes above, sometimes below the surface and it didn’t need to be battled into existence. This is how poetry feels to me now.