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 from Measures 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 last poet is Glen Sorestad. He is a well-known poet from Saskatoon who has had nearly 25 volumes of poems published and has been included in over 60 anthologies and textbooks. When Glen is not creating new poems, he is working on revisions to older poems. To read more about his life’s work, check out the post below.
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 began writing poetry – seriously, that is – around 1968 shortly after I moved to Saskatoon to accept a teaching position. I had always been interested in writing, but had never considered actually becoming a writer until I met practicing writers in Saskatoon. By 1970, I was having poems accepted and published, but my first little chapbook didn’t appear until 1973. So in a few years, I’ll have been writing poetry for half a century!
What inspires you to write poetry?
That’s always a hard question to answer because poems are the result of so many different things and sometimes I think “inspiration” is not the best descriptor of what causes anyone to write a poem. First, I think poetry – an appreciation, love and knowledge of poetry – may be the initial motivation for anyone to write a poem. We write poems because we remember poems, have been awed and influenced by poems, and because we may even carry poems in our heads for a lifetime. It’s certainly true in my case. I have loved poetry since I was a child and I see the writing of poems as a very natural off-shoot of my love for poetry. I have carried poems in my head almost all my life, at least from age ten, maybe even before.
Are there any young poets that inspire you? If so, who, and why?
Let me answer that question initially by saying the very young poets, from five years of age into their teens always inspire me because they are so imaginative and both fearless and natural with language. I love reading the writing of bright, young children – and yes, I would say they do inspire me because they are not even aware of how beautifully they often can express something. They don’t know how good it is.
But if you are thinking of young poets who have already published a book of poems, poets in their late teens or early 20s, I must confess that I haven’t read very many lately, at least not of whom I’m aware. I’m always reading poems in various magazines and websites, but I may never be aware of the poet’s age. There is always a new wave of young poets coming along and making their mark on the poetry scene, but age is not something that I consider relevant when I am reading published poems. A poem is either good or it isn’t and the age of the poet doesn’t matter.
Any new publications that you’re currently working on?
I have always tended to work on individual poems, seeing each new poem as its own organic unity, its own creation. I have never begun a poem with the idea that it would be the beginning of a book of a certain kind or theme or style. Sometimes the poems, as they come along, will suggest a manuscript direction, but often they will simply be one-of-a-kind poems. So I seldom work on a poem with the idea that it will be part of a certain book, until and unless I have a clear notion of what might be necessary to have as part of the manuscript. Then I may try to write a few poems that might bridge the gaps between some of the poems that are already there. Right now, I have at least three separate poetry manuscripts that I can see as possible books whenever I think the poems are all ready to stand on their own and as a finished manuscript.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I have, throughout most of my writing life, been a writer who goes through particularly productive periods, followed by less productive stretches, at least in terms of producing new work. However, I have come to accept this as part of my writing process, so I never think of writers’ block, ever. When I’m not creating new poems, I’m working on revisions to older poems and fine-tuning, always fine-tuning, as I try to hone the language and strive towards perfection. Rewriting and revising can be almost as rewarding and satisfying as creating a new poem, so whether I have written anything new during the past week isn’t important to me because it means I’ve been spending my time working on other poems that need my attention.
In your chapter in Measures of Astonishment, you made references to a few poets such as Anne Marriot, Anne Szumigalski and John Newlove (to name a few). Who was the greatest impact in your career as a poet and why?
Anne Marriott’s “The Wind Our Enemy” and “Prairie Graveyard” were seminal influences on my earliest poems and I think I could even suggest that when I wrote and published my Wind Songs in 1975, it could very well have been an act of homage to Anne Marriott – though I may not have said that at the time. However, as I matured as a poet, John Newlove’s poetry grew increasingly important for me and Newlove’s influence on me became the most significant single influence on my work. Newlove’s precision of language and sound is unrivalled and I keep going back to his poems like “Ride Off Any Horizon” or “The Weather” or “When I Heard of the Friend’s Death” and others, to remind myself of what I continue to strive for as a poet. Al Purdy was another huge influence on my poetry from the 1980s onward, especially the distinctive ways in which Purdy handled the narrative structure of his poems. From reading Anne Szumigalski and listening to her read her work I learned much about the role and importance of sound and music in the language of poetry.