Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Catherine Graham

The 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.

Catherine Graham

is a Toronto-based writer. Her sixth poetry collection The Celery Forest was named a CBC Best Book of the Year and was a finalist for the Fred Cogswell Award for Excellence in Poetry. Her debut novel Quarry won an Independent Publisher Book Awards gold medal for fiction, “The Very Best!” Book Awards for Best Fiction and was a finalist for the Sarton Women’s Book Award for Contemporary Fiction and Fred Kerner Book Award. She teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto where she won an Excellence in Teaching Award and is a previous winner of the Toronto International Festival of Authors’ Poetry NOW. Æther: an out-of-body lyric will be published in 2020 with Wolsak and Wynn. Find her at http://catherinegraham.com/  Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @catgrahampoet

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

The deaths of my parents during my undergraduate years led me to the writing life. My mother died the December of my first year, my father, the September of my last. Overwhelmed with grief, a worried family friend suggested I see a therapist. The therapist suggested I keep a journal to ‘write out my feelings’. This helped but it wasn’t a cure. One day I began playing with words—images, memories of my parents and the limestone quarry we lived beside. Time disappeared. When the engagement with words ended, I knew something out of the ordinary had happened. Eventually I worked up the courage to show that same family friend what I’d written. “These are poems,” she said. From that point on I wanted to know all I could about the art and craft of poetry. It continues to be the creative centre of my life.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My mother played nursery rhymes on the piano and we sang them together. I was introduced to poetry through song.

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

I had no concept of becoming a poet, not until the deaths of my parents opened that door and led me there. The poets I was familiar with were dead men with white beards, not young women steeped in grief.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

My writing routine fluctuates with work commitments. In addition to mentoring privately, I teach creative writing at various venues throughout the year: University of Toronto, Humber College (Creative Book Publishing Program), Diaspora Dialogues and Haliburton School of Art and Design. I try to keep my mornings free as I’m closest to the dream world then and my mind is more receptive to playing with words, images and rhythms. Revision comes later in the day when pockets of time open up.

5. What motivates you to write?

The loss of my parents continues to motivate me, the mysteries of life, nature, dreams, people, a trigger that tells me: explore this, engagement with the imagination, leaving the everyday world and finding another one there through words, imagery and music then shaping these discoveries into poems.

6. What is your work ethic?

For me, writing is a way of life. It’s how I move through the world. I’ve come to realize that I’m always at work: thinking, processing, gathering, dreaming, integrating. There is no on/off switch. I wouldn’t want it any other way. The curse is the gift.

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

I admire my creative writing students. They do what all writers do: face the blank page. Although Canadian, I’m greatly influenced by the Northern Irish, Irish and UK writers. Some have become friends like Michael Longley and Kathleen McCracken.

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

I write to be immersed in the imagination, to keep the dead alive, the past in the present. It’s the language of my inner life.

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

Do you feel compelled to write? Is it essential to your being? If so then read, write and never stop. Make time to be alone, not only to read and write but to connect with the silence inside you, the breeding ground for the imagination. It’s where poems live.

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

I’m finishing up on my next book: Æther: an out-of-body lyric to be published in 2020 with Wolsak and Wynn. I’m also working on poems for my next full collection, a chapbook with Knife|Fork|Book and some prose, too.

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