ASK A SHORTLISTER: Who would you be if you weren't a poet?

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.


Who would you be if you weren’t a poet? Does this other version of you inspire your writing, still?

Tanis Franco: Once I lived in NYC for 1.5 years and didn’t write much poetry. I wasn’t very happy so I think I need to write to feel okay. 


Jenny Haysom: I could have been a naturalist – though one afraid of bears – and author of the first guide to scat through the seasons in the Boreal forest. Whenever we go hiking, I take note. Alternately, I might have become a visual artist, a maker of miniature still life paintings after the 17th Century Dutch Masters. Instead, I loafe and invite my soul.  

Stevie Howell: I am something else when I’m not a poet. I’m a psychometrist, which means I administer cognitive & neuropsychological tests for individuals under the direction of psychologists. It makes me approach writing with a similar mindset as in that job: as a one-on-one conversion, in which we are building rapport, in which we are using a set of tried & true tools, in order to access a shared meaning. Because of my work, I am interested in how memories are encoded & retrieved–the role of repetition vs emotional salience, for example. I wrote this book in the present tense because my job requires me to be perpetually present, etc. Being a psychometrist is as big a part of who I am as being a poet, & I feel very blessed that these two roles energize each other. 

Jim Nason: I would like to have been a professional dancer or an Olympic swimmer.  I’m very physical (I still run marathons).  I am somewhat obsessed with Martha Graham.  She says There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action .  Although she often speaks about dancing, I believe that her words can be applied to all creative endeavours.  Keep the channel open, she says.  I hang on to those words as a direction for my writing.  I am a teacher and often tell my students: ‘No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.  Martha Graham discusses the importance of artistic discipline but she also tells us to honour our spontaneous spirit and to go where that spirit takes us. 

Shazia Hafiz Ramji: I don’t think I would want to be another person, but I would definitely be a musician if I weren’t a poet. Or a “spy.” Or a historian. 
Often before writing a poem, I noodle around on the guitar. Playing music before writing clarifies the emotion and makes it more fluid. Making field recordings also feels very much like poetry; listening deeply, finding rhythm and falling into it is something I aspire to when writing as well. 

Kim Trainor: I’d be Townes van Zandt. I listen to his songs, and think, can I ever write something as beautiful as “Rake” or “Tecumseh Valley?” 

Jennifer Zilm: I’d like to be a cult leader or at least someone high up in a cult hierarchy– the leader’s preferred wife who actually runs the cult, maybe.  


Hear more from our 2019 Shortlisters here.

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