Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Laura Cok

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.

DoubterCover[43685]

Laura Cok

Originally from northern California, Laura spent time in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Waterloo, Ontario before settling in Toronto, where she now lives. She holds an MA in English Literature from the University of Toronto, where she won the E.J. Pratt Poetry Medal and the University of Toronto  Magazine alumni poetry contest. She has been previously published widely across Canada and works in corporate communications. Her first book, Doubter’s Hymnal, was published by Mansfield Press in summer 2019.

Doubter’s Hymnal

Her own website: https://www.lauracok.com/

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I’ve been keeping journals since I learned how to write, and writing has always been the way I made sense of the world. Some things are harder to make sense of, and that becomes poetry.

Plus, I got a lot of adult approval when I first started, and I’m an oldest child. So I stuck with it.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Shel Silverstein is the first poetry I remember reading, or having read to me. I started trying to write my own when I was around eight, and it was not at all Silversteinian, so there must have been other elementary-age influences/teachers that I don’t remember. Soon enough I started stealing my dad’s anthologies — lots of Byron, Keats, etc. — and bookmarking heavily, and being introduced to more serious poets in middle school and onward. I can still recite Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay from memory, which I did for extra credit in seventh grade. I had a strong memory for poetry and was trying to absorb it, as literally as I could.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

They don’t feel particularly dominating to me. I think the biggest shift in my perception has been from “well, I’m a high school writer, I’m pretty good at this for my age,” to measuring myself (a full-fledged adult) against published writers. Attempting to consider myself their peer. And now that I’m 30 and have a book out myself, surely the imposter syndrome will fade any day now…

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I wish I had one! I work 9-5, so writing is squeezed in around the margins. I am not an early morning writer so it’s often a matter of whether I have the wherewithal to stare at a screen in my downtime after having stared at a screen for eight hours for work. Weekends are better for this. For poetry, I do what I would never advise anyone else to do, which is “wait for inspiration” until I get fed up with the lack of it and write something terrible in a coffee shop. For prose I am much better at the butt-in-chair school. 500 words here, 500 words there. They all add up to something eventually, even if that something is only practice.

5. What motivates you to write?

It’s cheaper than therapy.

6. What is your work ethic?

I always think it’s poor, but here I am still plugging away when plenty of more talented writers have stopped. When the Love of the Work isn’t quite enough on a given day, spite will do the trick quite nicely. I’ll show my mean middle school English teacher!

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

Oh, tremendously. I write a lot of formal poetry, by which I mean sestinas and modernized sonnets and the like, or I incorporate formal elements, and I think that’s because the poetry I really loved when I was younger was all formal. Edna St. Millay’s sonnets! Elizabeth Bishop’s sestinas!

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

I loved Kayla Czaga’s latest book; I think she has such a smart, funny way with poetry that never gets overly precious, but neither is it banal. That’s a hard needle to thread. I’m reading Paola Ferrante’s debut now and it’s incredible, full of fury and power (and I’m not just saying that because we’re published by the same press!).

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

I’m bad at drawing. More seriously, writing feels the most like what I’m supposed to do. Like it’s the real work of my life.

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

Read widely, fill up notebooks, keep a journal. In this current moment we’re all writers more than any other point in history — Twitter, Facebook statuses, instant messaging of whatever kind — which is incredibly exciting, especially for linguists (read Gretchen McCulloch’s Because Internet for a fascinating exploration of this). So the question, if posed, is maybe more “How do you become A Writer.” I have only just started to get comfortable with calling myself one! If you write, you’re a writer. If you like to take long walks in the woods and tell anyone who will listen about the amazing novel idea you have, but you never actually put the words down, you might be an interesting and contemplative person, but not a writer. That’s fine! There’s just no shortcut.

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

While my book was in post-manuscript, pre-publication process, it was very hard for me to draft any new poems, so I’m just starting to get back into that now. In the meantime I switched my attention to prose, and I have half a first draft of a novel, which means my great new idea for a completely different novel is right on schedule.

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