Interview with Eleonore Schönmaier

Eleonore Schönmaier’s poem “it didn’t happen here” was named the winner of the League’s 3rd annual National Broadsheet Contest, selected by judge D.A. Lockhart for its “strong images, and captivating lyric voice.” We spoke with Eleonore about her writing and reading practices and also her upcoming projects.


League of Canadian Poets: What made you want to submit to the National Broadsheet Contest?

Eleonore Schönmaier: I love poetry broadsheets and I’m looking forward to seeing how Briar Craig works with the poem. I like the idea of poems being alive in the world in various forms.  You can turn a novel into a film or an opera, but the novel is usually adapted and changed.  Poems can be out and about in the world in their intact original selves and show up as poetry walls or on buses and subways. A poem can be a postcard. Poems can be chalked on sidewalks.  A poem can live as a tattoo.  A poem can be a song.  Out of all those various lives for poems a broadsheet stands out for me as a perfect confluence of word and print art.


LCP: How did/does your approach to contest submissions differ from your regular writing practice?

ES: I tend to focus on submissions in December and January (this of course can vary with submission deadlines) and I do the creative work during other parts of the year.  One of the main reasons I submit to contests is that it allows me to focus my mind more critically.  I have friends who use my piano for rehearsals and they tell me that just having me in the room, an audience of one, heightens their performance and makes for a better rehearsal. When I submit to a contest the judge is in the room with me (metaphorically of course) as I re-read and re-edit my poems in preparation to send them out into the world.  Before I submit to a contest I read the poem out loud many times and I rewrite the poem over and over by hand until I feel it is ready for the journey to an audience.

An important consideration when I’m submitting to contests is what organization or publication the contest fee supports.  The League of Canadian Poets is an important resource for poets and I knew that even without a win my entry in the contest would be worthwhile.

I also always look at the work of the past winners.  If the quality of the work is at a level I deeply admire then I dream of being in their company.


LCP:   Are there any poems or books that inform your writing (either of the winning poem or in general)?

ES: I read widely in three languages.  I read poetry, fiction and nonfiction. Some visitors feel I inhabit a library not a home, but for me a home without books is not a home.  I’m often reading ten books or more at the same time.  I have on the go books in my office, in my kitchen, in my bedroom and in my packsack. I also have at least one book which I can’t let out of my sight and which I carry with me from room to room and on my journeys.  All the thought and thinking from this reading becomes distilled into a few words combined with lived-in-the-world imagery, and the result is a poem.


LCP: What writing projects are you currently working on?

ES: Currently I’m putting together a new poetry manuscript. I’m also working on a short story collection, and I’m translating some poems from German and Dutch into English.


Eleonore Schönmaier‘s most recent poetry book is Dust Blown Side of the Journey from McGill-Queen’s University Press. Her other collections are the critically acclaimed Wavelengths of Your Song (2013) and Treading Fast Rivers (1999). Her poetry has won the Alfred G. Bailey Prize, the Earle Birney Prize, and is widely anthologized including publication in Best Canadian Poetry.


Thanks to Eleonore for sharing her insight with us! If you haven’t already, be sure to read her winning poem “it didn’t happen here.”