How did you first come to writing poetry?
As a child, I listened to my father recite poetry and sing songs all the time. He knew poems by Tennyson and Coleridge, Lear, and Shakespeare by heart. I didn’t learn until I was quite a bit older that these were not his own words. I thought it was a standard thing for a father to do. Nothing special. So poetry was part of my every day life.
If I sneezed, he would say, “I speak severely to my child/I beat her when she sneezes/She only does it to annoy/because she knows it teases.” from Alice in Wonderland. (He had adapted the original, “boy” to make it fit me.)
I have been asked this question many times in interviews and I have told this much of the story, but there’s a part that is missing, and it is important to understand, but not easy to talk about and it won’t be easy for others to hear…
I loved my father very much because of all those poems and stories he told me. I was enchanted by a magical world I thought that he created. But from the time I was quite young, my father was inappropriate with me. I always squirmed away, and I always said no. As an adolescent, I finally figured out that a lot of the songs and poems he recited had sexual innuendos and double entendres. I learned I had to keep on my guard to understand what he was saying so that I wasn’t somehow agreeing with any sexual thoughts he had about me. It hurt me very much that he betrayed me in this way and I saw his recitation of these poems and stories, his singing of these songs as a way in which he was trying to seduce me. So I hated all of that. I wrote a lot but I didn’t label anything I wrote as poetry until my thirties when I first read the poetry of Gwendolyn MacEwen, Mary Oliver, Lorna Crozier, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. I related to their work in a way I never related to what my father had recited to me.
Shakespeare continued to be a weird trigger for me. In grade 10, my teacher was always way too forward with me, sitting beside me in assembly, putting his hands on my leg. Then one day, when were reading Hamlet, he asked me to read a scene out loud and afterward he explained to the class all the sexual innuendo. I was embarrassed and ashamed. It became a trigger for me all over again. To this day, I loathe Shakespeare.
I made up my own language when I was about four years old. My parents thought I was deaf because I didn’t respond when they spoke. I pretended I could only understand this made up language.
I remember when I heard my babysitter and her husband speaking Czech when I was eight. I loved the way the language sounded. She taught me a few words. I loved the way the sounds felt in my mouth. I took French, German and Italian throughout high school and became a translator from French into English because I loved the French language so much, the various nasal sounds and deep-throated r’s. I studied Baudelaire and Rimbaud in university and loved the synaesthesia aspect of their writing.
I have grapheme synaesthesia: people’s names, days of the week, months, numbers, and pain all evoke colour for me.
What is it about the form that resonates?
The first thing that will always matter to me in a poem is the sound. In Grade 7, we were studying Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a cloud,” and the teacher asked us what the poem was about. I answered, “the sound of bells.” Everyone laughed. The teacher said I was wrong. It was embarrassing. Turns out, I wasn’t wrong at all.
I am also enthralled by imagery, the way an image can get deep into my psyche and linger, the way images in a poem can accumulate to create a mood or tone or articulate an emotion that I have but can’t express well myself. Colour really resonates for me as well. Rothko’s black-form paintings are the best poems I know.
I guess I learned from a very young age that words have meaning beneath the surface and that people have reasons to use them that may not be obvious or honourable, so I learned the power of language and its dangers too.
How does a poem begin?
Aside from the standard, with an image, with a sound, with an overheard bit of conversation, with something that is on my mind that I need to sort out, I would say that a poem begins with the feeling of not fitting in. I’ve never really felt that I fit within any group or conventional way of life. I have always felt like an outsider. So a poem begins with me trying to offer myself company and solace by letting my weird out.
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?
That answer has changed over the years. I wrote songs first, then tried and failed at fiction, then I wrote poetry, then erotic fiction, then visual poetry, so I’ve added genres, but haven’t taken any away. I’m currently working on an experimental narrative hybrid novella thingy, so I don’t know that I do keep the genres straight. I’d like to keep them queer and fucked up.
I’ve figured out that my creative and life missions are love, whimsy, exploration and connection to fellow misfits. I am trying to make things that will help others know that they are not alone. It is such a great comfort to me when I read something or see a piece of art or a film or hear a musical composition that makes me feel that way.
I serve these goals and the work follows. Whatever form it needs to be, I’ll try to make that happen. So I create and share my work out of a feeling of alienation with the status quo and an understanding that I am not the only one who feels this way. I’m not monogamous. I’m pansexual. I don’t own a car. I don’t own a house. And I don’t seem to have ever had any of the typical ambitions of a white middle-class cis-gendered woman. I don’t have children, which is something I am sad about, but it didn’t happen. I don’t make money except from grants and I volunteer as a managing editor and publisher of others’ work.
I almost died in 2009 so I’m really grateful to be here and this results in my being way too intense for most people. I overshare, I’m candid as fuck and I don’t want to waste time with bullshit and fakery. My surgeon in 2009 gave me a 40-year warrantee. If I’m lucky, I have thirty years left. I’m going to live as full a life as I can. For me that means intimacy in the form of creative exchange with kindred outliers. My creativity is now for the sake of community building. I’m fine with letting my writing of creative work take a back seat to helping to empower and amplify those who do not fit in with the status quo, the oppressed and the underrepresented.
Have you a daily schedule by which you work, or are you working to fit this in between other activities?
Writing is priority four on my list of priorities: my husband, Bywords.ca, the literary site I run, AngelHousePress, my micropress, and a big part of what both of these do is to find ways to empower and promote marginalized voices: D/deaf, disabled, queer, BIPOC women and gender nonconforming writers, and then my writing. But I’m an early riser, and my husband leaves the apartment at six a.m. I have time to do what’s important. I don’t put pressure on myself to write. I don’t write every day. I spend more time reading than writing. I have been writing and sharing my work publicly for twenty years, but I have so much to learn, and I’m happy about that.
What are your favourite print or online literary journals?
rob mclennan’s Periodicities has become my favourite online journal, and I’ve always enjoyed his blog for interviews and reviews. For print, I love Brick, mainly because of the essays. It’s my dream to have an essay published in Brick some day.
Who are some of the writers you are reading lately that most excite you?
There’s a great UK anthology called Stairs and Whispers:Deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches Press, 2017) and I’m gobsmacked by the work of so many of the poets. I keep coming back to that anthology. These writers are people I had never heard about before, like Abi Palmer, El Clarke, Miki Byrne…and they’re writing about all this uncomfortable shit about their lives and it’s things able-bodied don’t have any idea about.
Sachiko Murakami’s forthcoming book Render (Arsenal Pulp Press) is this moving and vulnerable collection of poems of trauma, abuse, addiction, and recovery.
Canisia Lubrin’s the Dyzgraphxst (McClelland and Stewart) is an exceptional articulation of anti-colonialism, racism, climate crisis, oil, family, mothering, community, identity, an exploration of Blackness, erasure and otherness, the consequences of forgetting history and the impact on our 21st Century dystopian realities.
I’m reading Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative (Coach House Books, 2000) and it’s getting me very excited about the writing of Kari Edwards, Renee Gladman, Anne Stone…and I continue to be a huge fan of Nathanaël’s l’entregenre.
I’m excited about Klara Du Plessis’ forthcoming poetry book, HellLight Flesh (Palimpsest Press).
Local poets, Margo La Pierre, Conyer Clayton, Ellen Chang-Richardson, and formerly local Manahil Bandukwala are popping up in various magazines and I’m enjoying their work immensely.
For visual poetry, I’m in love with the work of Dani Spinosa, Kate Siklosi, Sacha Archer, Dona Mayoora, Hiromi Suzuki to name but a few.