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.
is the author of Blackbirds (Eyewear Publishing, 2018), Rabbit Punch! (DC Books, 2014) and The Emperor’s Sofa (DC Books, 2010). He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. His writing has been featured in publications such as The Walrus, Queen’s Quarterly, Geist, Vallum, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Best American Poetry Blog, and World Literature Today. He regularly works with at-risk communities and teaches at the Thomas More Institute. He is the poetry editor of carte blanche and lives with his family in Montreal.My website is: https://gregsantos.me/ I can be followed on social media on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/gspoet/) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/moondoggyspad).
Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I started writing poetry when I was a teenager, long before I even really knew what I was doing. I would jot stuff down into a journal when I was traveling with my parents. I liked the idea of capturing moments in time. Eventually I kept a journal more regularly and those scribbled thoughts, ideas, and song lyrics became my first poems.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
I can’t specifically recall who introduced me to poetry or what age I was. I do remember learning about poets in high school, like Emily Dickinson and e.e. cummings. One of the first songs/poems I wrote in high school was inspired by cummings’ poem “anyone lived in a pretty how town” and I even wrote a blues-inspired song after Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
In college, I devoured writing by The Beat Generation and at one point I remember (embarrassingly) trying to emulate Dylan Thomas when reciting a poem out loud. I was starting to experiment with incorporating popular culture and humour in my writing and a professor of mine encouraged me to read Frank O’Hara’s poetry, which lead me to discover The New York School’s works and my mind was blown! I particularly owe a great debt to the writing of Kenneth Koch and his approach to teaching creative writing to youth, as I regularly work with diverse communities, including at-risk youth. I am very aware of the voices of poets that came before me and always feel that my writing is in conversation with them.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I didn’t always keep a regular writing routine and would write whenever I had a free moment, often at night when my wife and kids were asleep. This fall, I’ve set aside my afternoons for writing and editing. It’s been relatively successful and I’m quite happy with the change and the results.
5. What motivates you to write?
The world around me motives my writing. The daily wonder in my children’s eyes. My wife’s thirst for learning and her joy spending time in nature is contagious. There’s a motto that I have added to my own business cards, which is “Live a Life Poetic.” I try to live with that saying in mind on a daily basis. I’ve always been a sensitive person, and so I try to be open to the magic of the world around us. Of course, poetry itself is one of my main inspirations. I’m unabashedly a poetry nerd: I love reading other people’s poetry, reading about poetry, discussing poetics, and spreading my enthusiasm about the art form to whoever will listen. Poetry is my vocation.
6. What is your work ethic?
Like I mentioned in one of your previous questions, I have recently scheduled regular time in the afternoons to work on my own writing projects. This doesn’t mean writing exclusively. I feel that editing is just as important as writing. So is reading and researching. Even when I’m not writing, I’m soaking everything in like a human sponge. I’m constantly in awe of other writers and I love to see what my peers are working on. Once I digest it all, I still find myself surprised by what comes out in my own work. It’s all very exciting to me!
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
When I’m stuck, I still like to go back to the many writers who have influenced me. It’s like visiting with old friends. There are some that I’m not as close to as I once was, but it’s still nice to catch up. Then there are those friendships that pick up again from right where we left off. I love going back to Kenneth Koch, Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Paul Violi, Michael Ondaatje, James Tate, Elizabeth Bishop, Lydia Davis, Mary Ruefle, Dean Young, Stuart Ross, Mark Strand, A.R. Ammons, Jorge Luis Borges, and Italo Calvino, among many others.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Oh my goodness, there are so many writers that I respect for so many different reasons. Sometimes it’s their hustle and commitment to their art. Others, I admire for their encouragement and support of one another. Of course, there are my peers who are just killing it out there and writing amazing pieces of literature. Some of these writers that immediately come to mind include Leah Umansky, Phoebe Wang, Cora Siré, Heather O’Neill, Tara Skurtu, Gillian Sze, Stuart Ross, Ashley Opheim, Tess Liem, Joshua Levy, Gabino Iglesias, Larissa Andrusyshyn, Sarah Kay, Najwa Zebian, Branka Petrovic, Harriet Alida Lye, Matt Haig, Guillaume Morissette, Marcela Huerta, Klara du Plessis, Faisal Mohyuddin, Lauren Turner, and Robin Richardson.
9. Why do you write?
Some like to say “publish or perish.” Yes, the publishing part is nice, of course. I, however, prefer to say “create or croak.” I am interested in the process of writing. The joy of the act of writing and of play is very important to me. When I was younger, I always said that I would be in a creative field and I often started working on screenplays, stories, and comics, but would often leave those projects unfinished. On the other hand, I was able to finish my poems. Once that happened regularly, I couldn’t stop. It was and continues to be a compulsion. When I completed my first book, The Emperor’s Sofa, I was amazed. I made this work of art – with plenty of help along the way – but it was out there in the world. I still feel very grateful to have had a book published, let alone more than one, and to have the opportunity to move others with words. We always tell our daughter that when she plays a song on the piano for her friends and family, it is a gift that she is sharing and something to be proud of. I feel that poetry is my gift and I have a deep sense of satisfaction and pride for that creative accomplishment.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Read. Write. Re-read. Re-write. Be persistent. Reach out for help. Let others help you. Help others along the way. Always believe in your writing.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’m currently working on a couple of projects at the same time. One of my manuscripts-in-progress is inspired by the life and art of Canadian modernist painter, Anne Savage. She was a member of the Beaver Hall Group, who were Montreal-based contemporaries of the iconic Canadian landscape painters, The Group of Seven. My childhood home was the same home that Savage lived in for the majority of her life and I’ve been writing persona poems and ekphrastic poems from her and some of her family members’ point of view.My other project is somewhat of a continuation of the writing found in my newest Eyewear Publishing poetry pamphlet, Blackbirds. The themes in Blackbirds touch on parenthood, identity, and ancestry much more so than in my previous books. It put me in a much more vulnerable space and I wasn’t sure how it would be received. But seeing how positively readers have been responding to Blackbirds, I’m in the process of putting together a manuscript that builds on these themes in greater depth and I’m hoping for it to become a new full-length collection.