We asked the poets shortlisted for our 2019 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 8, 2019.
What is the importance of community to your writing life?
Jenny Haysom: I’m reclusive by nature––a lone wolf––but I’ve really benefited from a literary community in Ottawa over the last decade or so. Community is a wonderful thing for writers when it stimulates, supports, and opens the mind to new ways of thinking. For example, I found my time working for Arc Poetry Magazine extremely enriching, learned a great deal from other board members, and spent hours on the front lines of contemporary Canadian poetry. Lately, I’ve been attending more readings and events, and occasionally I participate in a writing group––The Ruby Tuesdays. This kind, wise and talented group of women will provide you with the sharpest, most practical critique of your work, and you are free to take what you need and leave the rest. Nowadays, I’d be very reluctant to publish a poem without running it past them.
While I’m all in favour of flesh-and-blood writing communities, I’m a little wary of virtual ones, and quite put off by social media. Though the internet has no doubt democratized publishing and allowed the marginalized to speak––and be heard––it has also fuelled anger and enabled harsh judgement. Frankly, I’m reluctant to get involved.
David Martin: For the past twelve years, I’ve helped to organize monthly readings as part of the Single Onion Poetry Series, and this role has really broadened my understanding of poetry. I’ve met many poets from across the country and discovered their work, and I’ve developed friendships with a number of writers in Calgary. Poetry, like writing in general, can be quite solitary work, so it’s helpful to talk to others who are engaged in the same field, find out what they’re working on, and discuss how they’ve overcome some of the difficulties that can arise when writing.
Jim Nason: I have had the good fortune of reading as part of the Best Canadian Poetry reading event in Bryant Park New York, the Winnipeg International Writers Festival and, most recently, IFOA NOW Battle of the Bards. These readings and festivals allow me to get to know other poets on a one-to-one bases.
I’ve also been part of a writing group with Maureen Scott-Harris, Liz Ukrainetz, Maureen Hynes and Barry Dempster for many years. For us it is very much a community/social thing. We share good food and talk about poetry. I can’t imagine my life without these wonderful poets.
There is also the importance of social media for building community. I learn a lot about and feel connect to other poets through Facebook and Tweets. This actually comes as a surprise to me as I resisted social media for a long time. There is also The League of Canadian Poets where I learn about established poets and welcome new ones. The League’s events and prizes are critical to my feeling informed by and connected with other poets.
Shazia Hafiz Ramji: There is nothing without community. Even though I write alone and enjoy my solitude, I am constantly inspired by others around me. If it weren’t for people like Juliane Okot Bitek, Dina Del Bucchia, Dominik Parisien, Erin Soros, Ian Williams, Leigh Nash, I would not know how freeing it is to feel accepted despite vulnerability. Community is possibility.
Hear more from our 2019 Shortlisters here.