The art of writing #31 : Pearl Pirie

How did you first come to poetry?

I was always doing it. Grade 1 and grade 2 we were to memorize & recite poems. And we were asked in school to write. I just never stopped.

How does a poem begin?

With all conflict, randomness, intention, with neural load freed up and time to play and edit.

How did publishing your first chapbook change your writing?

I don’t think it did. Conscious examination of what I wrote and why (poetics statement) and a wider and deeper reading changed what I felt safe to express.

You’ve so far published numerous chapbooks and will soon be releasing a fourth full-length collection. How are you finding the process of learning how to put together a manuscript? What have the challenges been?

Yes, soon a 4th book. I’ve also had 28 chapbooks out over the last 15 years with 2 more chapbooks coming out next year.

A challenge with putting a manuscript together is, in style, theme, tone, form, I make a lot of variation. I swore I would keep a tighter thread among poems for a more gratifying read, but so far those two book manuscripts haven’t found a home. I often don’t often think in terms of theme or one argument for the length of even a chapbook. The exceptions being Eldon, letters (above/ground, 2019), Sex in Sevens ( (above/ground, Sept, 2016), Reviews of Non-existent Titles (Shreeking Violet Press, 2015), and today’s woods (above/ground, 2014) where I had enough material for each to cluster around one subject. There’s this great thread on twitter on making a manuscript:

The bigger challenge is honing poems. I love the process of editing on the scale of sound, line or book. (How parts build energy for the next or undercut momentum.) There are many possible best orders of poems to different effects and emphasis. The process of cutting poems and radically changing poems becomes easier.

My editor at Radiant is the best I’ve had. Gillian Harding-Russell has an eye for a less-optimal word or cloudy areas in a poem. Or for a poem that doesn’t fit or isn’t its full self yet.

The biggest challenge is selling poems. Everyone has a scarcity of shelves, time and attention for reading, even or especially the readers.

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

I have had chronic health for decades issues so I work when I can. I jot poem parts for later editing or assembly for good energy days. This last year has been mostly for editing not new writing. (A little more extensive answer at Wombwell Rainbow:

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

This could be long.

Generally what lights me up are novels and memoirs that let me suspend disbelief and drop me into a timeless space. That’s magic to transfer mental images through squiggles. It’s not the subject but the resonance. Stories that model community and friendship caught me this year, accepting and rolling otherness into an us.

Binti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor (DAW, 2019) is an amazing trip through the universe as a girl comes of age as an extraordinary leader with intergalactic stakes, and forming her family of choice
The Allspice Bath by Sonia Saikaley (Inanna, 2019) is about living in a conservative Lebanese family and trying to find your own path despite being marriageable age.
Journey of a Thousand Steps by Madona Skaff-Koren (Renaissance Press, 2015) is a spy story with a protagonist fighting her limits with MS.
Amusement Park of Constant Sorrow: a novel by Jason Heroux (Mansfield Press, 2018) is absurdist in a way that’s realistic. Oddly it like Skaff-Koren’s novel also involves unwelcome home security systems.
No one can pronounce my name by Rakesh Satyal (Picador, 2017) follows a few people moving from isolation to connection, confession and to community
The Kennedy Moment by Peter Adamson (Myriad Editions, 2018) was a compelling thriller of how to drawn government funding to immunization.
Fish in a Tree: a novel by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (Penguin, 2015) where a special teacher sees through the coping strategy of a funny kid to the dyslexia beneath.
Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson (Alfred k Knoff, 2017) is inside the world of urban indigenous and trickster magic
Sister-Mine by Nalo Hopkinson (Grand Central Publishing, 2013) was an absorbing ride through twists of magic and myth
Grave Importance: A Dr Greta Helsing novel by Vivian Shaw (Orbit, 2019) like a lot of supernatural fiction has a core community of support within the strange contexts. It’s the strongest piece in the trilogy.
The Uninvited by Geling Yan (Faber & Faber, 2006) follows a poser who accidentally enters the world of newspaper food critic /socialite and lavish eating in an otherwise impoverished neighbourhood. Hooting social criticism but at the same time elicits rooting for characters.

Memoir and non-fiction:
Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 years by Sarah L Delany and Elizabeth Delany with Amy Hill Hearth (Dell book, 1993) is a memoir of transcribed interviews of 2 unique and spirited strong women who lived through a century of change for black women in the U.S. There’s a power to oral histories in print in their own voices.
Becoming by Michelle Obama (Crown, 2018) which is a story of acting for change to give a hand up to make equity and empowerment happen. By audio book hearing it in her own voice was particularly powerful and heartening.
Love lives here: a story of thriving in a transgender family by Amanda Jetté Knox (Viking, 2019) Is a memoir of a family’s journey as 2 come out as transgender and one as queer. It made us cry and laugh as my partner and I read it all aloud.
The Howls of August: Encounters with Algonquin Wolves by Michael Runtz (Boston Mills Press, 1997) because he has a thrilled passion for his subject and deep knowledge.
Brave: Living with a concussion by Kanika Gupta (Language of Growth, 2019) is a brilliant illustrated book on understanding and navigating concussion. See images here:

For Poetry:
Eleven Elleve Alive: poems by Stuart Ross, Dag T Straumsvag & Hugh Thomas (Shreeking Violet, 2018)
The day the moon went away by Marilyn Irwin (above/ground, 2019) is an economical chapbook but with an impact that doesn’t get less with rereads
Espesantes by Stuart Ross (above/ground, 2018)
Concealed Weapons/Animal Survivors by Natalie Hanna (above/ground,2018)

I look forward to Ghost Face by Greg Santos after having read his last two books. And a full book from Natalie Hanna.  Since I’ve liked every poem I’ve seen from her, I look forward to holding the first collection by Conyer Clayton. And a collection from Manahil Bandukwala. I hope to see David Blaikie’s collection in print. And from David A Epstein’s first chapbook. After reading another chapbook from Michael Sikkema I have to get a book or three of his. And a book from Marilyn Irwin.

At the Tree reading, Sarah Feldman had a striking comic timing, and humility about her poems in her first poetry collection, The Half-Life of Oracles ( Hearing her read, I’m not sure if it was the poems or the patter that I found compelling. Eventually I’ll find the book and find out.

David Groulx won the Newlove Award so I look forward to what he does next in his Bywords chapbook. Each book is a new thing with him. I don’t feel i’ve read one book therefore read them all. His material gets thicker not more abstract with time.

Pearl Pirie’s 4th poetry collection, Footlights, comes in the fall of 2020 from Radiant Press. Her haiku and tanka chapbook, Not Quite Dawn, comes from Éditions des petits nuages in spring 2020. This chapbook of haibun, Water loves its bridges: Letters to the dead has another epistle with Eldon, letters (above/ground, 2019). She can be found on twitter at pesbo, and at her author site where she offers resources, manuscript service, and conducts poetry courses at

A selection of her poems appeared in the second issue.