Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib

bio-photoInterviewed by Matthew Kok.

It was a big night for Emerson Poetry Project—Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib was performing. As a first-year student at Emerson college, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this big important writer, or what to expect from the night of poetry ahead, or what to expect from a poem.

He walked up to the mic, and for the rest of the night we were traveling. That’s how I ended up being pulled into Hanif’s work. He took the music in our lives, the images of them—a dorm bunk, the sky from an airplane seat—and proved their relationship, its intimacy. He brought us his own stories, and they became ours.

At the end of the night, Hanif walked to the middle of the crowd. As we huddled around him, intimate, shoulder-to-shoulder, his life opened itself up to us. Through his writing and slam poetry, Hanif’s life and influence has continued to open itself up to me. As Bobby Crawford, then-MC of the Emerson Poetry Project said about Hanif four years ago, “No one is doing it like him right now.”

Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib’s life began in Columbus, Ohio. You can read his poetry collection, The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, from Button Poetry / Exploding Pinecone Press. His poetry has been published in Muzzle, Vinyl, PEN American, other journals. His essays and music criticism has been published in The FADER, Pitchfork, and the New York Times. He has been nominated for the Pushcart prize, and his poem “Hestia” won the 2014 Capital University poetry prize. He is a Callaloo Creative Writing Fellow, an interviewer at Union Station Magazine, and a poetry editor at Muzzle Magazine. He is a member of the poetry collective Echo Hotel with poet/essayist Eve Ewing. Additionally, he is a columnist at MTV News, where he writes about music, and fights to get Room Raiders back on the air. He talked to me about exploring genre, branching out of slam, bridge-building, and survival strategies in dark times.

I think I remember you saying you got started writing a little bit later in life?

I started writing poems around 2012. I had been writing music criticism freelance for a while, since like 2009, and I kind of got a little tired of it and wanted to branch out into other things. Poetry was the natural leap for me because I was so interested in analyzing lyrics, picking through language on a larger, more artistic scale. So, poetry kind of afforded a really good opportunity to just expand on that.

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Garth Martens

GarthBioPicInterviewed by Patrick Murray

Garth Martens won the 2011 Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. His first book Prologue for the Age of Consequence (Anansi, 2014) was a Finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award in Poetry. His poems have appeared in publications like Poetry Ireland Review, Hazlitt, This Magazine, Geist, Vallum, Fiddlehead, Prism, Grain, and Best Canadian Poetry in English. In collaboration with Alma de España Flamenco Dance Company, he wrote and performed the libretto for Pasajes, an international production staged in 2014 at the Royal Theatre.

For nine years Martens has worked in large-scale commercial construction throughout northern Alberta and interior British Columbia. As another writer who has worked in the oil patches of northern Alberta, and who dried up as a creative force in that environment, I was particularly interested in what drove him to keep writing, let alone maintain inspiration, in such a rugged and muscular environment. His book Prologue for the Age of Consequence is almost entirely concerned with the world of the tar sands, and the lives of those who work within it. I also couldn’t ignore his penchant for Flamenco, and what thoughts he might bring to bear on “cross-pollination” in the arts.

First off, and it’s a little belated, but congratulations on your book Prologue for the Age of Consequence. It is intensely, darkly beautiful, and can leave one quite staggered at times. Obviously the book draws a lot from your experiences in the tar sands, the oil patches of Alberta. Having worked there myself, and as another creative person, I related quite fully. But I also had questions. Did these poems start coming to you unexpectedly while you were already ensconced in that world, or did you have an idea that a project like this would emerge beforehand? Perhaps discussing what led you to seek work out there in the first place, and the alternating experiences living up there and living in Victoria.

Thanks, Patrick. That’s kind of you. In 2006, I was working a lookout tower in Lac la Biche under the header of Alberta Wildfire Management, and sharing the gig with a girlfriend. Although losing at cards, killing mosquitoes, and growing paranoid about phantom smoke and stray figures in the birch were all formative experiences, the pay split in half didn’t amount to much. Through a contact in Edmonton I was hired on with a large-scale commercial construction company, and subsequently worked at several job sites up until late 2014. I didn’t anticipate writing about it. I didn’t want to. A few years later, after an especially exhausting stint in construction, I wrote a prose poem in the voice of a labourer. Soon I had the terrain for a unified manuscript. In tandem I read Beowulf, Gilgamesh, and The Divine Comedy, which shaped certain choices at an early stage.

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Francesca Lia Block

c307e2cf505fbd4b585b1f26101f17fb_400x400Interviewed by Genevieve Michaels

The work of California-based writer Francesca Lia Block creates its own universe: a dreamy, gorgeous parallel reality that blends magic and danger to haunting effect. Among her many remarkable books is the Weetzie Bat series. The series was collected in the omnibus Dangerous Angels, which The New York Times called “transcendent” and Buzzfeed referred to as “a quintessential book of the 90s.” Block is a recipient of the Spectrum Award, the Phoenix Award, the ALA Rainbow Award, and the 2005 Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award. She is also a gifted teacher, which is no surprise – her warm, empathetic nature is evident in her compassionate treatment of both her readers and characters. I first came into contact with Block as a fan, when I sent her a piece of my writing in 2014. To my surprise, she responded  with thoughtful comments, and we have kept in touch ever since. In fact, I think of her as my virtual fairy godmother.

Weetzie Bat is a cult classic. What is the experience of being the author of such a well-loved book? Does it in any way “overshadow” the rest of your books? Is it still your most popular book, or do younger fans tend to start off with your newer works?   

Yes, it does overshadow everything! Usually when I meet a new person, they know all about Weetzie but aren’t familiar with much of my other work.  It can be frustrating. My fan base is definitely older now and those are the readers I’m in touch with so I don’t know what books of mine the younger ones are reading. In terms of sales, currently, Weetzie Bat, Dangerous Angels and Girl Goddess are my most popular, in that order. I really want people to take a look at The Elementals. It’s an adult book published by St Martin’s and I think it’s one of my strongest novels.

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Jennica Harper

JH PicInterviewed by Shaelyn Johnston

Jennica Harper hails from Brampton, Ontario, but now resides in Vancouver, BC, where she currently writes for the acclaimed CTV series, Motive. She has worked as a writer on such TV series as, Some Assembly Required (YTV), Shattered (Global), and Mr. Young (YTV/Disney XD), for which she won a 2013 Leo Award and was nominated for a 2014 Canadian Screen Award. Jennica also adapted a comic book, The Clockwork Girl, into an animated feature that was released in 2014.

In addition to writing for film and television, Jennica is also an accomplished poet whose books include, The Octopus and Other Poems, What It Feels Like For A Girl, and Wood. In 2014, Wood was nominated for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, and her poem, “Linear Notes”, received the Silver National Magazine Award for poetry. Her poems have also appeared in literary journals across North America, as well as on buses and skytrains as part of Translink’s Poetry in Transit project.

As someone interested in writing for television, I reached out to Jennica via email with a few questions about the business and her career path. She provided great insight about what it’s like to write for Canadian television, and had some excellent advice for writers such as myself looking to break in to the industry.

You completed an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia. Did you find it beneficial to your career?

I did. One of the best things about studying writing is you get used to receiving feedback from others, and figuring out what’s worth implementing, and how. While I don’t think any specific degree is necessary to becoming a screenwriter, I do think workshopping helps you learn to hit deadlines, develop perspective on your own material, and learn to rewrite.

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Ben Ladouceur

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 2.26.30 PMInterviewed by Halle Gulbrandsen

Ben Ladouceur is a writer and teacher whose debut collection of poems, Otter, was published by Coach House Books in 2015. It quickly impressed the literary world with its honest voice and lyrical charm. His work has been featured in many literary magazines such as Arc, The Malahat Review, PRISM international and The Walrus. He was awarded the Earle Birney Poetry Prize in 2013 and was shortlisted for the Type Book Award in 2015. Originally from Ottawa, now based in Toronto, Ben graciously agreed to converse with me over email and again showed his wit in answering these questions about his life as a writer.

Why poetry?

This is a question I’ve fielded a few times since Otter came out, and a question I’ve read in many interviews with poets. I have never seen someone ask a novelist, “Why novels?” Everybody writes poems in elementary school. All I did was remain in that state of poem-production. I don’t see that as misconduct, though apparently it is, because most adults aren’t writing poems. But sometimes I want to grab strangers on the subway and shake them and ask, “Why not poetry??”

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Álvaro Miranda

alvaro-miranda1[1]Interviewed by Camilo Castillo R

Álvaro Miranda is a poet, fiction writer, and biographer. I met Álvaro last October, when we were at a writing retreat in Saladoblanco, a small town in the state of Huila, Colombia. On the long journey from Bogotá we discussed poetry, literature, life. Later, in the workshops, I had the opportunity to listen to his poetry and was captivated by his sense of humour and his sensibility. After the trip, I read his book Simulación de un reino (2014) which includes old and new poems, and his novel La risa del cuervo (1992), where Caribbean rhythm, history, and poetry combine in a very stylized manner. I also read his recent biography of Toto La Momposina, Columbia’s most famous folk singer. In this book Álvaro illustrates that he sails easily between genres and forms. Some of his other books include Indiada (1971), Los escritos de don Sancho Jimeno (1982), La risa del cuervo (1992), Simulación de un reino (second edition, 2014). He also wrote Colombia la senda dorada del trigo: episodios de molineros, pan y panaderos (2000) an exploration of how bread was developed in Colombia, and the biography León de Greiff en el país de Bolombolo (2004). For this interview, we spoke about his poetry and his interest in history. The interview took place in Spanish and I translated it into English.

Álvaro, which author most influenced you to become a writer?

Santa Teresa de Jesús (Teresa of Ávila). I discovered her in an old book at school. I read that she was a fat lady who rode in a carriage in order to found abbeys, where she coerced women, those red-cheeked young Spanish ladies who laughed and pried at clean houses of high stone, to become novices. When I read her poems, I was transported to the century of Santa Teresa, the 16th century, but especially I was transported by the simplicity of her rhymes that put me in dialogue with another time and another light, a light that was more than Ávila, more than Spain: I discovered myself. I found something, a kind of meadowland artificially blooming over Teresa’s words. But her words were not hers anymore, they were mine.

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Kate Hall

kate-hallInterviewed by Patrick Connolly

Kate Hall is a poet whose first book, The Certainty Dream, was shortlisted for the prestigious Griffin Prize in 2010. She completed her BA and MA in Creative Writing at Concordia University and has since been published in Boston Review, jubilat, PRISM, The Malahat Review, Arc, Denver Quarterly, Colorado Review, and LIT. She is currently on maternity leave from her post at Dawson College in Montreal.

How did you get your start in writing?

I don’t know when I got my start in writing really. I’ve written as long as I can remember, which seems sort of a lame thing to say; probably everyone who is a writer has written for a long time. I wrote when I was kid and as a teenager and I guess somewhere someone decides that the poems are worth reading. I would have kept writing anyway but that’s how it happened. There are two things that happen in getting your start as a writer. One of them is internal and how you feel about your own writing, the creative choices you make, the projects you embark on. Other things you have much less control over like how other people respond. A writer’s work happens so much in the dark, alone and it’s important that someone tell you it’s worth it. I am not talking in the sense of getting published or of having a first book because those things are very different. But somewhere along the line, someone has to tell you that you belong to the poetry. I’m sure every writer has had that experience, although probably they wouldn’t express it in those words. I have also been lucky enough to have had that experience or who knows?

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Sue Goyette

Sue-Goyette 2Interviewed by Ngwatilo Mawiyoo

Sue Goyette lives in Halifax and has just published her fifth collection of poems, The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl, with Gaspereau Press. Her previous collections include The True Names of Birds, Undone, outskirts (Brick Books) and Ocean (Gaspereau Press) as well as a novel, Lures (HarperCollins, 2002).

Sue has been nominated for several awards including the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, the Gerald Lampert, the Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Dartmouth Book Award, the Acorn-Plantos Award and, most recently, the 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize. She won the 2008 CBC Literary Prize for Poetry, the 2010 Earle Birney Prize, the 2011 Bliss Carman Award, the 2012 Pat Lowther Award, the 2012 Atlantic Poetry Prize, Silver in the 2013 National Magazine Awards and the 2014 Nova Scotia Booksellers Choice Award.

Her poetry has appeared on the Toronto subway system, in wedding vows and spray-painted on a sidewalk somewhere in St. John, New Brunswick. Sue currently teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Dalhousie University.

I read Ocean last year and loved its bold ambition, its wit and weight. Sue graciously agreed to an email interview from an unabashed fan.

When did you first begin to take yourself seriously as a poet? 

I’ve always been writing poems. When did my writing practice deepen? Probably when I started writing again in my mid-twenties. I realized then how important my encounters with poetry were. How those encounters informed and orientated my belief and ecosystem. How poetry chimed with something essential in me. How it contributed its own version of vitality to my schedule, and how I had come to rely on it to keep me awake. I was quite young when I had turned to poems, to stories but I trusted their company, their ability to help me feel connected to something bigger and more important than myself. That was key. I don’t feel like it was a choice but more of an opening, like heading in the direction that permitted me to become more me. [Read more…]

Billeh Nickerson

billeh_main_20140508Interviewed by Shannon Rayne

Billeh Nickerson is a poet, performer, editor and teacher. He is the author of four poetry collections of poetry —The Asthmatic Glassblower; McPoems; Impact: The Titanic Poems; and Artificial Cherry— and the humour collection Let Me Kiss It Better. He is also co-editor of Seminal: The Anthology of Canada’s Gay Male Poets. His most recent book, Artificial Cherry, was shortlisted finalist for the 2014 City of Vancouver Book Award. He is the Chair of the Creative Writing department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.  www.billeh.com

You incorporate a lot of humour, sarcasm, wit and irony in your poetry – making both your poetry and your readings a joy to encounter. What are the advantages of using humour as a writing tool for you?  What does it allow you to do in your writing? 

Hmmm, that’s an interesting question as I find that humour has been beneficial to my work, but it also causes some folks to undervalue what I do. I love it when readers let their guard down after laughing. That’s the best time to pull a knife of an image or situation on them. That ability is the advantage. It can also start the conversation on taboo and political topics. [Read more…]

Amy De’Ath

amy-deathInterviewed by Maegan Cortens

Amy De’Ath was born in Suffolk in 1985. Her poetry books include Lower Parallel (Barque 2014), Caribou (Bad Press 2011), and Erec & Enide (Salt 2010). With Fred Wah, she is the editor of a collection of poetry and poetics, Toward. Some. Air. (Banff Centre Press 2015). Her critical writing has appeared in Anguish Language (Archive Books, 2015), and Cambridge Literary Review. She is a PhD student at Simon Fraser University and works on the poetics journal Line. She lives in Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories.

What was one of your earliest encounters with poetry that has had a lasting effect?

Here’s a cute anecdote: I’m not a massive Sylvia Plath fan, but when I was 17 and leaving the college at my high school (Sudbury Upper School), I went to return this first edition copy of Plath’s Ariel to the school library. I had renewed it so many times but previous to that it hadn’t been borrowed from the library since 1976. The librarian handed it back to me and told me to keep it, which made me feel good because, in her opinion, I was a person worth that book, worth reading it. I guess that feels significant because I think you have to have a certain amount of confidence to read poetry, let alone write and publish it. [Read more…]