Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
I am honoured and privileged that the following poets, local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.
Lorette C. Luzajic
What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?
It’s not an exaggeration to say that I simply always did. I can remember the exact moment when the dots connected for me learning how to read- it wasn’t a process, it was an epiphany where I saw how the letters put together were symbols and if you followed them, you could read the words. My older sister was reading a story and I was suddenly reading it myself. This was long before kindergarten. I pretty much skipped all the easy reader and word association books and went directly to narrative picture books and simple novels immediately. The writing of poetry followed before I really had any exposure to it. I would scrawl out imaginative vignettes and fun loops of rhymes.
While it’s definitely true that I had an unusually early gift for reading, and was naturally creative from the get-go, the same did not hold true for mathematics or other areas of learning!
My love of writing developed rapidly however. I created a zine in second grade called The Sunshine Peanut, featuring class poems and stories and artwork. I loved spending my spare time alone and processing my thoughts in a notebook. I was overwhelmed by the social aspect of school, preferring time in solitude, so I would often tell Mom I felt sick, so I could stay home, typing out little stories on a Fisher Price typewriter and taking notes for poems while reading and looking at magazines like National Geographic.
Who introduced you to poetry?
No one. My mother was a very creative person, visually, who loved music and colour, and my father was someone profoundly moved by debate, theology, and religious poetry, so I was simply one possible combination of their genes and interests. I spent a lot of time at the library because it was my haven, and discovered the poetry section myself. I loved the way the words were spaced out on the page- nothing was more beautiful than opening a page to all that negative space and then a few words seeping in and stabbing you in the heart with their beauty.
My father indulged my youthful desires to be a writer and would sometimes take me to library writing groups, church or community writing circles or readings, and even a weekend religious writing conference in the big city. I learned from these meetings how to write a cover letter and use a self-addressed, stamped envelope and began sending out poems to journals and newsletters. I amassed heaps of rejection slips, of course, but I was also exposed to the world of writing. My first favourite poets were e.e.cummings and Raymond Souster.
How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
My nature was and is so curious, I’m curious about everything. So I’ve always been hungry to experience everything and learn from those whose talents I admire or who have experience in something that interests me. I’m indebted to all the writers I read and love, because of all I can learn from them.
What is your daily writing routine?
I juggle my visual art career, my odd jobs and part time anything to get by work, my creative writing passion, and editing the journal The Ekphrastic Review (www.ekphrastic.net).
A typical day includes several hours spent on the magazine, looking at submissions, sourcing images, posting poetry. It includes working on proposals and applications for participation in potential art events. I try to send out a few submissions of writing or art or both every week, so those must find some time, too. I spend a few hours in the studio painting and a few hours on errands like picking up or delivering my paintings to and from shows, or in meetings with people I work with in some way. My writing and my visual art are not really separate in my mind: my art is built on words and images, inspired greatly from poetry and literature, and my writing is often ekphrastic or otherwise about art, such as my column Wine and Art for Canadian food blog, Good Food Revolution. They bleed into each other.
I studied journalism in university and discovered how much I hate the stress of trying to get paid for writing- I decided to do what I had to for work and write what I wanted, rather than thinking up paying stories like “Fix Your Own Toilet for Women” or “Can Your Dog Get Lung Cancer?” It was a big relief to let myself be led to writing by inspiration, and although I do have assignments and I do take paying work writing boring SEO blogs and other stuff, I take what comes to me rather than worrying about selling my stuff. I love that freedom to be creative for its own sake. I tend to relax when writing, with some candles lit and a glass of red wine, leafing through art books, reflecting on my travels or an intense emotional situation, and I use an old fashioned pen and paper as much as I use the computer and keyboard.
What motivates you to write?
Art and poetry, primarily, and also deep emotional affect or spiritual experiences, or seeing new things such as when travelling.
Contemplating art is the most immediate ticket into other minds, other eras, other worlds, other cultures that we know of. Writing about or from art is the most amazing process of discovery. It can take me to new knowledge and to intuitive places of feelings and ideas, too.
What is your work ethic?
I never stop working. Every single moment of my life is accumulative fodder for my writing and art, and even doing dishes is incubation or percolation time. Even when I’m asleep, my imagination is going wild and sifting through possibilities and scenarios. My down time is studying art or reading poetry. Because poetry is everywhere, the stuff of life, you can find it in anything you do from sitting in church to making love.
I do work hard, but I appreciate that making pictures and sweating over how words fit together on a page isn’t the same thing as slaving under the hot sun building a roof or pulling out tree trunks, the kind of work my brother and other close family members do. I felt guilty and indulgent for my lifelong obsession with words and pictures, something other people can relegate to a night course or weekend hobby, like golf. I had to accept somewhere along the line that right or wrong, this was my fate, and I’ve made many foolish sacrifices to live this intensity and to live in an imaginary place. I live without security, I have no “marketable” skills, I don’t know how to grow vegetables, I forgot to have children, and I took great risks with nihilism and hedonism in the days that I struggled with active bipolar disorder and romanticized that being an artist or writer meant being tortured and insufferably self absorbed. I would say I’m a lazy person, but my obsession with creating is an exception and I’m willing to work all the time, giving up everything, for almost nothing. It’s madness, and the most gorgeous life I could have dreamed of.
How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
In a big way. I continue to read and reread them.
Who of today’s writers do you admire the most
I’m leaving out hundreds by mentioning a few, but I am eternally infatuated with some fellow Canadians like Leonard Cohen, Lynn Crosbie, Catherine Owen, and Gwendolyn MacEwen. They all have a dark beauty that wrings everything out of our soul. My peers Noah Wareness and Darrell Epp are both geniuses for detail, spanning the quotidian and the eternal with crazy ease.
I am also extremely fortunate to work with some of the greatest writers through The Ekphrastic Review. I get constant exposure to the poetry of brilliant writers. I can’t believe the audacity and fearlessness of Alexis Rhone Fancher, who writes about really frank candid stuff that no one else will touch. We will all write about sex or relationships or family but we won’t get that naked. She is unbelievable, another one who just stabs you with words. Two more women whose work I adore are Devon Balwit and Tricia Cimera Whitworth, who have come to feel like friends although I’ve never met them in person. They can both write about any subject at all at the drop of a hat, and bring great beauty and creativity and spirit to their words. I could literally tell them “write a poem about an extension cord and a compost bin” and they would floor you.
Probably my favourite poet in the world is Sharon Olds. She completely rejected the “trim everything, get rid of excess words” ethic pumped into writers. It’s probably a good ethic to live by, since we would all otherwise pontificate until kingdom come. But Olds ignores such restraint, and tells her stories in wordy, dense, tumbling, overstuffed bounty of language, and it’s amazing. There’s no one like her.
Why do you write?
I’ve been trying to figure that out for years. There are definitely moments where what I have to say is unique and I feel I’m contributing to a conversation or sharing my own ways of looking at the world. Other times, I am simply contributing to a glut of language on subjects that have been done to death, and it’s rewarding for me to process my ideas but isn’t of much value to a reader. I believe that some of us have this need, a need almost deeper than thirst or sex or hunger, to tell stories because language and stories make us human. Some have to hunt, some have to nurse babies, some have to toil, and some have to write. Language is one thing that sets us apart from other life forms, it is something we have used to remember and grow- a cat might have ways of communicating and sounds that convey meaning to other cats, but he cannot pass down stories of his grandmother or communicate to cats not present what kind of dangers they might face or amuse them with jokes. There’s a philosophical element to the question, and a spiritual one- I was always taken with the passage of the Bible that says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Creativity and language are the part of us that is divine and eternal. We all use it and have it, because we speak and make things. Some of us are obsessed with it, and spend our lives writing stuff down.
What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
I try to talk them out of it, and encourage them to explore writing for fun or personal growth but not to think in terms of “being a writer.” Same goes for art. Those who can’t help themselves will do it anyways, and the rest will have a chance at a life includes both their passion and security.
That said, a writer is someone who writes. Period. It boggles my mind how many people are jealous of artists and writers, or who moan constantly about wanting inspiration or wanting to be a writer or artist. Then when I say “write something down” they have a thousand excuses. I don’t really get this impasse. You have all kinds of brave souls who write and write, even if they have limited or jejune talent, hopefully pouring out their hearts and working to improve. I hand it to these ones, because at least they’re doing it. They are more of a writer than the potentially gifted soul who is complaining but won’t get to it.
When someone is bemoaning how they always wanted to be a writer or artist, I often invite them to my studio to make art, or offer them free attendance to my fun art workshops, or to participate in the ekphrastic writing challenges we have at the journal I edit, The Ekphrastic Review. They don’t come. The truth is harsh and bitter: if you want to be a writer, you have to write. You are way ahead of the game, you are way ahead of even the greatest talents out there, if they aren’t writing a word.
Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’m slowly finishing up my fifth collection of poetry, which is an ekphrastic collection, as well as working on a book of poetic essays about Mexico, a place of so much inspiration to me. It’s very hard to capture it in words, but I’m trying.