We asked the poets shortlisted for our 2018 Book Awards some questions about their writing lives, inspirations and -of course – poetry. Join us for our weekly series Ask a Shortlister until the winners are announced on June 16, 2018.
Is there a single piece of writing that has informed you (as a writer, as a person) the most?
Billy-Ray Belcourt: José Esteban Muñoz’s CRUISING UTOPIA: THE THEN AND THERE OF QUEER FUTURITY is a book that is underneath most of my thinking nowadays. In this manifesto-like book, Muñoz offers up analytics with which to vie for and enact a queer of color future unhinged from the ruts of all that which stymies possibility in the present.
Lesley Belleau: I have read a lot of different authors and genres, but there are several that have truly impacted me. I would say that the first time I felt that poetry could be different and outside of the lines was when I first read Louise Halfe’s The Crooked Good. Here was a work that was under acknowledged and I read it and read it over and over and contemplated why. It was in the form of a long poem, and it was extremely personal, unapologetically human and mostly, it came from the voice of an Indigenous woman who came from trauma and residential school knowledge, which really ignited me. I searched for reviews- found few, and looked at why universities weren’t studying this very significant work.
Later, I realized that not a lot of people understood her words. I was always afraid to put my own words out there when I was younger in case no one understood my own lived history. Today, I read poetry and I relate to that deep story that persists somehow between each syllable and word. I believe in chasing those things that not a lot of people care to see. So, Louise Halfe influenced me greatly. Her works (namely The Crooked Good) has shown me that it is a privilege to tell our stories differently, without fear of genre or repercussion or fitting into an expected voice. Indigenous voices don’t always fit into the Canadian cannon, because it is rare that our true history is even known or portrayed, specifically through literature. When it is, I understand that everything we worked for is worth it.
Beth Goobie: The literary work that stays with me the most is the Wizard of Earthsea trilogy by Ursula LeGuin. The first time I read it was probably in Junior High; its message of welcoming and integrating your dark side has always stayed with me and informed all aspects of my life, writing and otherwise. Thanks so much, Ursula – you blessed the world with your wisdom and we’re grateful.
Cornelia Hoogland: A friend recently asked me if my writing expanded how I thought about, and lived, my life, or was it the other way around. For instance, I have just finished a short poem called “Selfie from Space,” that deals with the Voyageur 1 pausing its journey to take a photo of the pale blue dot that is our planet. It took many versions to stay with this image of loneliness and not move into consolation. I need my poetry to not rush in to repair, in art, the rift caused in real life. I tell you this by way of trying to explain my writing practice moves in fits and starts, forwards and backwards (and probably my life does too). Trailer Park Elegy expanded my repertoire greatly. Although I have written two other long poems (Woods Wolf Girl being the most recent before Trailer Park Elegy), it was significantly different, and Louise Gluck’s poetry, particularly Faithful and Virtuous Night, helped me proceed. Gluck’s poems talk to each other, and through their back-and-forth, create a context for the poems to exist within; a dwelling. Repeated words and ideas gain a wider resonance, and multiple points of view on a same subject create a more encompassing treatment of those subjects than can be expressed in a single poem. These particular characteristics are those of the long poem, and thus of Trailer Park Elegy. Like Gluck, I use narrative touchstones to situate the reader; in my case, in the interior of my red Toyota at the closed entrance to a trailer park in winter. Gluck’s poetry has recently been called a ‘novel’ in that it has settings and recurring characters––I’m still thinking about that.
Catherine Owen: Single? No. I don’t believe in the singular. I would say the top three writers who have kept their currents in my blood would be Robinson Jeffers, John Ashbery, and no, the third place is actually held by many makers ;).