Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
I am honoured and privileged that the following writers 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.
The illustration is the cover of her pamphlet “Spoiled Milk + Wet Specimen” from The Blasted Tree,
Erin Emily Ann Vance
holds a BA (honours) in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Calgary, and is nearing the end of her MA in English and Creative Writing under the supervision of Suzette Mayr. She will be pursuing an MA in Folklore and Ethnology at University College Dublin in 2019. Vance attended the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry summer course at Queen’s University Belfast in July 2018, and will be a fellow of Summer Literary Seminars in Nairobi in December 2018. She will be attending the Writers Guild of Alberta Banff Centre Residency in February 2019 and is a 2019 apprentice of the Writers Guild of Alberta Mentorship Program. Vance’s work has appeared in Contemporary Verse 2, Augur, In/Words, The Quilliad, Plentitude, and filling station. Her first chapbook, The Night Will Be Long but Beautiful was published by Lofton8th press in August 2016 and the Blasted Tree Publishing Collective published her leaflet, Wet Specimen + Spoiled Milk in 2018. Erin Vance was a recipient of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Young Artist Prize in 2017 (nominated by Aritha van Herk) and a finalist for the 2018 Alberta Magazine Awards for her short story “All the Pretty Bones.” Her poems “the drag of the key in the lock,” and “Honey Cookery” were nominated for the 2018 Best of the Net Anthology. Her first novel, Advice for Taxidermists and Amateur Beekeepers will be released by Stonehouse Publishing in Fall 2019, and her latest poetry chapbook The Sorceress Who Left Too Soon: Poems after Remedios Varo will be published by Coven Editions in 2019.
@erinemilyann (Twitter/ Instagram)
Buy her latest pamphlet here: http://www.theblastedtree.com/store/spoiled-milk-wet-specimen
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
My father is a musician and songwriter and he would write the most beautiful songs to commemorate events, like my great grandparents’ anniversary or the death of a loved one. I could see how the words and melodies connected to the moment and people better than a cake or a casket ever could. My parents read to me as much as they could and I devoured books. As a child I found myself both obsessively writing stories and singing to myself all day. We lived in the country and I would wander around the property, through the trees and jumping across the creeks, singing and telling myself stories. I enjoyed solitude and being outside where my words could fade into the wind.
For me, poetry was the bridge between stories and song. Poetry has an immense flexibility that I held onto while growing and evolving from a small child to an adult. The fluidity was something that I could not replicate elsewhere.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
My father introduced me to the power of words through song writing and I’d grown up reading poetry, but my real induction into the realm of poetry occurred when I was ten years old. I attended a summer camp for ‘gifted’ children at the University of Calgary lead by Jennifer Aldred. For two weeks we journalled, wrote stories and poems, sang, watched films, made art, and read and recited poetry.
Later, I attended a summer camp called Youthwrite, where I met and was later mentored by Sheri D Wilson in spoken word poetry. I learned about the Beats and surrealist and contemporary spoken word artists. Later, I attended Wordsworth, a summer youth residency, where Lisa Murphy Lamb introduced me to Sandy Pool, whose instruction helped shape me into the poet I am today. During my undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Calgary, I had the unparalleled experience of working with Aritha van Herk, Suzette Mayr, and Larissa Lai. All of these writers had profound influence on me, but much of my philosophy on writing and craft is thanks to Aritha van Herk.
I spent a week this summer at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University Belfast, and I feel as though I was reintroduced to poetry. There is a difference, though it feels intangible, between my poetry education in Canada and my poetry education in Ireland. In Canada, I’ve shied away from any semblance of sentimentality altogether. In working with Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Ellen Cranitch, Stephen Sexton, and more unbelievably talented people in Belfast, I found not only was it okay to write with feeling and sentimentality, but that doing so often enriched my writing and helped me to further establish my own poetic voice.
3. What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t have a regular, structured routine right now, because my work and study schedule doesn’t allow for it. Some days I start work at eight in the morning, others at six in the evening. I write for about an hour each day, though often that time is also split between editing and submitting work for publication. Editing and submitting are just as important as the writing itself. I write at my desk, in bed, on the bus, in cafes, at the bar, and anywhere else I may be when I feel the itch. I work several jobs and am a graduate student, so while I have much more free time than most people, I don’t yet have the luxury of long stretches of daily scheduled writing time. I get a surprising amount done while my students write tests, however!
4. What motivates you to write?
Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I am always trying to write the books and stories and poems that I want to read, so in a way, I write for myself. I want to see my thoughts and ideas realized.
5. What is your work ethic?
I have a fairly strong work ethic. I rarely go a day without writing, editing, or submitting, and often do all three in a day, however this work ethic is spread over multiple projects at once. I switch genres frequently, so sometimes it feels as though I’m working at a snail’s pace, though I really am working quickly, just on enough projects that each seems to progress rather slowly. I also try to read as much as possible, and include it as part of my writing practice.
6. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
The first poets I became obsessed with were Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. I still read them nearly every day and collect editions of their work and various biographies. I never “grew out” of the confessional poets, and I am always aching to know more about them and read new work by them. I love reading their letters and diaries and collected works, over and over. It’s like crawling into bed with my childhood teddy bear. They are with me every time I sit down to write.
7. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
There are so many writers working today whom I admire for both their talent and their commitment to bettering the world. I admire all of the incredible poets and novelists out there fighting the good fight: Jen Sookfong Lee, Bola Opaleke, Billy Ray Belcourt, Joshua Whitehead, Bhanu Kapil, Carmen Maria Machado, Nikki Reimer, Vivek Shraya, Chelsea Vowel, Ian Williams, Alicia Elliot, Jordan Abel, A. H. Reaume, and so many more! I admire writers who work from a place of unease, who are stirring the waters with their words and careers all of the time.
I also love following writers who I’m just really excited about! Some of these are: Sonya Vatomsky, Vanessa Maki, Afieya Kipp, Effy Winter, Isabella Wang, Jenna Velez, Ailey O’Toole, Arielle Tipa, Hannah Kent, Annemarie Ní Churreáin, Miriam Nash, Milena Williamson, Stephen Sexton, Lauren Lawler, Paul Meunier, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Jess Rizkallah, Sennah Yee, Susannah M. Smith, Catherine Garbinsky, and Sandra Kasturi.
9. Why do you write?
This question used to be simple—a clichéd answer about ‘making a difference,’ ‘being heard,’ or ‘it’s my passion.’ The more I write the more I realize that it is less of a choice and more of a compulsion—a wonderful, exciting compulsion, but a compulsion nonetheless. Simply put, I don’t know how to exist without writing and reading. I have so many thoughts and ideas that send me manic and restless and the only relief comes with writing them down. Writing is both pleasure and pain, but it is above all, a persistent knocking from the inside of my skull telling me to put that overactive imagination to use. I love writing, and rereading something I wrote after a time away is like greeting a messy, old friend.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
This is a tricky question, because there are so many different ways to be a writer. Many will say that to be a writer one simply has to write. I disagree. My advice for those aspiring to be writers is always this: read voraciously and widely. At the risk of sounding redundant, you cannot be a successful writer if you do not read. Read outside of your comfort zone, and every day. Not only will it make you a better writer, but it is important to stay current in the genres you are working in, and writers have a certain level of responsibility to each other to read books other than their own. It sounds harsh, but if you do not read, you are not a writer. Full stop. Oh, and keep your day job. You’ll probably need it to pay the bills, and if you’re lucky enough not to, it’s important to get out of the house once in awhile.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I am currently finishing my master’s thesis, The Art of Drowning in Haunted Waters under the supervision of Dr. Suzette Mayr; a hybrid gothic novel about a young epileptic woman told in poetry and prose. It is part fable, part mystery. That is my biggest focus until I hand it in on November ninth. I am also polishing my novel, Advice for Taxidermists and Amateur Beekeepers, which is set for publication in late 2019 (Stonehouse Publishing). This book is a meditation on grief and family dynamics following trauma, with a fair amount of ghosts and small town gossip thrown in. I am thrilled for it to be out in the world. In addition to these projects, I have a full-length poetry manuscript that I will be working on with Kimmy Beach as part of the 2019 Writers Guild of Alberta Mentorship Program. This collection focuses on women in folklore and history labelled as “hysterics” and interrogates their position in society and attempts to elevate their voices. My last ‘big project’ is a collection of short stories and flash fiction called No One Believes You Except for the Dead. The collection is slowly coming together, and I work on it when my motivation for my other projects diminishes. And, of course, I am always writing poems when an idea comes to me, regardless of whether they fit into a particular project or not.