The art of writing #2 : Ruth Daniell

How did you first come to poetry?

I first came to poetry as a child, and reading the likes of Dennis Lee, Jack Prelutsky, Sheree Fitch, Lois Simmie, Jean Little, and others. I was a speech arts student, which meant that I was regularly memorizing and performing poetry (as well as prose) in front of an audience. Learning from a young age that there is a contemporary audience for poetry—and connecting poetry back to its oral roots—has hugely influenced the way I approach poetry. I’m always thinking about how the poetry works on the page, but also how it sounds, and that’s exciting. Poetry is exciting!

How did publishing your first book change your writing?

I guess that depends on what you mean by “first book.” I had a collaborative chapbook, Four Portraits, co-authored and illustrated with Laura Ritland published in spring 2016 with Jack Pine Press, and the anthology I edited, Boobs: Women Explore What it Means to Have Breasts, came out with Caitlin Press that same spring. Both projects highlighted my respect for other writers and just the sheer amount of work that it takes to get something onto the page.

It’s maybe too early to say how the publication of The Brightest Thing—perhaps most truly "my" first book—has changed my writing, if at all, although I will say that I feel much more confident about how to assemble a collection of poetry together now that I’ve done it once. When you’re just starting out, it’s easy to write each poem as a kind of one-off thing, but more difficult to see how all the poems are going to fit together into a unified book. I wrote a lot for The Brightest Thing and I had to cut quite a few poems that I’m still pleased with as stand-alone poems but that had to go so that the manuscript didn’t get repetitive or indulgent or bogged down. I’m working on my second book of poetry right now and I think I’ll end up with less material needing to be cut. Rather than removing poems where the manuscript needs trimming, I’ve been more able, this time, to add poems where the manuscript needs filling.

You’ve published work in multiple genres. Do you see your writing as a single, extended project, or a series of disconnected threads? How do you keep the genres straight?

I’ve published poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. I don’t find them hard to keep straight. Poetry is my primary genre, my first love, but I’m still largely narrative-driven, even in my poetry—The Brightest Thing, my new poetry collection, deals explicitly with fairy tales and the role of narrative in our lives—and I can usually tell very early when something needs to be prose. I don't think there's any way I could say my writing is a series of disconnected threads. In all my work, at least so far, I'm looking to prove--to my audience, as much as to myself--that love (all kinds of love, not just romantic love) is a positive force that can do good, that can change the world. This hope, or search for it, anyway, arises out of an exploration of the places where we see the idea of "love" perverted into unkindness or violence--against ourselves, each other, or the planet. I seem to keep coming back to fairy tales, body politics, gender issues, violence (against women), sex, feminism, silenced voices, other kinds of trauma, but also healing from that trauma, and the ways we form our own families, the ways we can find joy in our world. My newest work--which includes the two poems that appeared in talking about strawberries all of the time--is dealing more directly with climate change and the environment but is still ultimately concerned with the question: how do we love each other, and love each other well, in a world that's damaged?

Have you a daily schedule by which you work, or are you working to fit this in between other activities?

I have a one-year-old at home and another baby on the way: right now I have no daily schedule for writing. It happens when it happens, and I’m grateful whenever it does. Writing is necessary for me.

What are your favourite print or online literary journals?

Oh, I have several I like to read. Mostly I read the Canadian journals. I love Room Magazine, and also The New Quarterly and Arc. As for online journals, I read The Maynard, and I love what Word and Colour is doing, pairing up writers with the work of contemporary visual artists. I’m consistently impressed with the multidisciplinary approach of the UK-based Synaesthesia Magazine, which really works to combine literary work with visual art and engage as many of the senses as they can.

Who are some of the writers you are reading lately that most excite you?

Natalie Morrill, Rhea Tregebov, Lise Gaston, Joelle Barron, Laura Ritland, Adrienne Gruber, Louise Gluck … I read a lot of poetry but I read fiction, too. A friend just gave me a copy of C. S. Lewis’s retelling of the Cupid and Pysche myth, Til We Have Faces, and I really enjoyed that. I’d never read it before. I’m constantly returning to fairy tales, folk tales, and myths, which always re-energizes my love of story. At any given time I’m reading a book of poetry but also have on the go some version of the Grimm Brothers fairy tales or new variants from French, Italian, English, Russian, and other folk tales. I’ve never outgrown my expectation that books—regardless of their genre—should be magical.

Ruth Daniell is an award-winning writer whose poems have appeared in Arc Poetry MagazineGrainRoom magazineQwerty, the Antigonish Review and Event. Her first full-length collection of poetry, The Brightest Thing (Caitlin Press, 2019) explores fairy tales, sexual violence, love, and healing. The recipient of the 2013 Young Buck Poetry Prize with CV2 and the winner of the 2016 Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse Contest with The New Quarterly, Daniell is also the editor of Boobs: Women Explore What It Means to Have Breasts (Caitlin Press, 2016). She holds a bachelor of arts degree (honours) in English literature and writing from the University of Victoria and a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of British Columbia. She lives with her family in Kelowna, BC.