Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Pearl Pirie

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.


Pearl Pirie

has has 3 poetry collections published, with a 4th forthcoming in the fall of 2020. Three times her poems were given a nod by the annual anthology Best Canadian Poetry in English.  She has a couple dozen chapbooks, and has run a small press for over a decade. She has been kicking around the boards of literary organizations since the mid-90s.  She assists poets with their manucripts through Chalkpaths, her editing service, and gives workshops on poetry in person and online through Studio Nouveau.Her latest publication is Call Down the Walls (Frog Hollow Press, 2019) https://www.froghollowpress.com/catalogue.html#walls. She is working on her first bilingual collection of haiku in rural Quebec, Canada where she volunteers at a charity shop and as a librarian. www.pearlpirie.com

The Interview

1          What inspired you to write poetry?

To in-spire, to gasp, to take in air. Guess it’s involuntary. The reasons change as I change. I like the density of poetry. Some of it maps better to my brain speed than longer literary forms. Writing is a choice for ruminating an ideology. Poetry is no better and is worse than some forms of expression. Even a long poem is a small canvas compared to a novel.

2          Who introduced you to poetry?

Old books I bought as auction as a kid, school. I made my first best-of chapbook around grade 5. I suppose because I do visual easier than acoustical, the written word called and despite being able to find few books of poetry, there’s something there from access, permission-to-speak to the page, and encouragement. I read Kate Braid early on and was impressed that a strong woman could be defiantly female and speak her truths. It wasn’t until I took a rob mclennan workshop about a dozen years ago that I found out about post-modern and modern beyond the contemporaries at local open mics.

3          What is your daily writing routine?

I have no routines. There’s no particular day of the week or time of day for most things except I like being in bed by 9:30 pm if not sooner. I write in snatches, edit in long stretches of 8 or 10 hour days. Because of concussion and body energy quirks I may only get 9-12 hours awake in a day but I aim to write some each day, or edit some at least. In 25 years of tracking my writing rates, I wrote 5700 poems and published about 200 so about 3%. Tracking I found there was not a lot of pattern to time of day, day of week, season, except when I chose to write. January to May I wrote more than summer, fall and Christmas season. Basically tho, I was the common thread I was looking for. And the pattern that every year I write more and edit more.

4          What motivates you to write?

I motivate me. Like most writers I feel a need to verbalize for order in the head & body as I’m working thru schtuff.

The more I read novels, the more I work on my novel, the more I read poetry the more I write poetry.

Prompts and seeing people perform tends to spur me to extra writing.

  1. What is your work ethic?

In favour. Peck away, hoping to not die in a useless way in the meantime.

I write full time, which is really part time with life maintenance. There’s little use attaching to particular outcomes at particular dates because my wonky body may not function when I want.

As novelist Sonia Saikaley said at the Ottawa small press fair, “first there’s your health & your family & if you have anything left, there’s all this (widening arms to take in the room).”

  1. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today.

Nope. I suppose Edward Lear said nonsense is okay? Youth was a long time ago. I’ve been a few people since then. Self starts now & keeps moving. I grew up pre-internet in one spot. I didn’t meet an honest-live-in-the-flesh writer until grade 12. Mostly I read the 1800s.

  1. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

There are so many who organize, publish, support, read, broadcast, review, add to and improve poetry and create communities. Thousands and thousands of people.

Rita Wong puts her page of land & water protection principles into action. She was arrested for interfering with Transmountain. More info http://brokepipelinewatch.ca/

One of the poets I’ve come to admire most recently is David Groulx. He writes about what matters & who he cares about. Tightly packed but not in the overcaffeinated hyperactive leap sense of dense poetry. It’s not parlour word puzzles. from Turtle Island to Gaza with relating the poets of Palestine is a completely differently good book from Groulx’s love poems in the Silhouette of your Silences.

I also admire Leah Piepzna-Samarasinha. Her poems nail me to a wall by her stating her life paths.

Greg Santos’ poems have a kindness & sweetness in them. Poems by Nicole Brossard, Conyer Clayton, Gwen Benaway, Stephen Brockwell & Manahil Bandukwala have an intensity that hums me.

Poems by Mark Truscott, Cameron Anstee, Philip Rowland and Nelson Ball are automatic buys for their refined minimalism.

I admire Karen Schindler, Michael Casteels, Dessa Bayrock & Cameron Anstee for making beautiful objects for poetry.

Ron Silliman keeps people connected and in his poetry enacts how everything counts. Amanda Earl juggles many projects to promote others & creates unique beauties. rob mclennan gives forum for people to be heard and advances what words can do unhooked from direct narratives. Trish Hopkinson helps people with finding markets.

I’m wowed by Monty Reid’s spearheading Ottawa’s VERSeFEST festival seemingly tirelessly. And his poetry gets steadily tighter and more moving over  the decades. I don’t know how many books of his I have of his but I’ll buy any he’s selling. Likewise with poems by Phil Hall. Kay Ryan is profound and brief without being easy or sweet. Naomi Beth Wakan is articulate. Tyehimba Jess’s Olio. It was an immersive experience of a book. Yu Xuanji’s poems are contemporary in the sense of English translations I go back to for their punchy personality. Stuart Ross for his sense of the absurd, comic and tragic.

Haiku by Cherie Hunter Day & by Roland Packer click with me. I have a lot of haiku reading to do. I want to read more French poets.

In fiction, Peter Adamson’s The Kennedy Moment & non-fiction Charlotte Gray have a great attention to researched detail. Vivian Shaw’s series of Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead blew me out of the water for its turns & affection characters had for one another. And diving into more of Nnedi Okorafor where the magic is empowering young woman heroes.

  1. How do the writers around you today influence you?

Those I read give permission to do whatever but polished to nth degree, to write about what matters rather than nattering.

9          Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

It’s good for flex-time. Low investment in materials, if I don’t count books bought. 😉

Writing doesn’t displace so much as complement other things. I would also like to do more art & science & political advocacy. It isn’t an either/or.

10        What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

If you write, not imagine writing, but get pieces completed, by dictation or by hand, you are a writer. It doesn’t matter if it’s published. It’s the process of critical thinking and making. Sharing with someone.

How to become a good writer? Inner work. observation, & reading stuff better than you can do. Study how the mind & society work and write what you need to read. Learn about everything from many perspectives. Get feedback from a community you trust who are trustworthy. Have silent time, downtime & time to let the well refill.

How to become a read writer? Marketing, persistence, cash outlay or equivalent in time, zeitgeist, luck of who reads when, strong edits for a tight perfected work, and ideally be born rich and upper class if you can manage it. Time machine & manual of how to use it is a real edge.

11        Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I think I have 9 projects on back or front burners. Maybe I forgot some.

One front burner item is a book of letters to my father as haibun. (He died a decade ago. About half of this is published here or there.). I’m still writing those.

A genre novel about a woman who is a stonemason daughter of a werefox with a mystery to solve about an inter dimensional perv. It’s coming along but has far to go.

Some lyric poems are out circulating. (I uncrossed my fingers so I can use my hands until I hear back.) I’m trying to sell more copies of Call Down the Walls (Frog Hollow, 2019).

There’s a gratitude journal of one liners, which I had started about a decade ago then saw Chiasson had just published his Beatitudes. Mine would be less cynical.

There’s a Tang dynasty project where I’m giving reply monologues to those ancient poets while giving tributes to people I am glad to know. I thought it was done but it’s back to substantial edits.

I’m in the process of translating my chapbook of haiku to French. That might come out next year. For my phafours press, translating the haiku and senryu of Paul David Mena in the U.S. for launch this fall.

I have been restructuring a book of poems based around flora & fauna and the culture of being young & female in Canada.

I will soon be with an editor editing a collection of poetry to come out in the fall of 2020 with Saskatchewan publisher, Radiant Press. These are more zany and offbeat poems.

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