Laura Lush’s fourth collection of poetry, Carapace (Palimpsest Press, 2011) was just released this fall. Her other collections of poetry include The First Day of Winter (Rondsdale Press, 2002), Fault Line (Vehicule Press, Signal Editions, 1987), and Hometown (Vehicule Press, Signal Editions, 1991). She also has a collection of short stories, Going to the Zoo (Turnstone Press, 2002). She lives in Guelph with her son, Jack, and teaches academic English and creative writing in the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Good question. My first book, Hometown (Vehicule Press, Signal Editions, 1991) was written mostly at the Banff Centre over three summers. And some of the poems were written when I was a creative writing undergrad at York University between 1984-87. So, I was very fortunate that my first attempt to publish a m.s. was successful. I don’t think this is a very realistic experience for “new” or “emerging writers.” In fact, finding a publisher for my most recent book, Carapace (Palimpsest Press, 2011) took over a year. Also, my first book was nominated for a GG---and that scared the hell out of me. I wasn’t ready. Of course, I didn’t win. And that has been a good thing. I always have a great fondness for Hometown as the poems were about my childhood and my family. The memories/images were very very raw. My work today is a bit more removed. There is more of a “buffer” between the narrator’s voice and the actual material. And I think the work tries to grapple with more abstract/metaphysical complexities rather than just speak of past memories.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I had very little interest in poetry in high school. I’m not sure why this was. But shortly before I applied to the creative writing program at York, I went into see Don Coles, who, of course, is one of our best---if not best---modern Canadian poets. Something in that initial conversation turned me towards poetry. It was very very subtle, yet powerful enough to make me want to explore poetry further.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I’m the single mom of an 8-year-old boy, so starting anything always takes a colossal effort! But having said that, once I have made my mind up---that is, once I have sat down in front of my laptop, then I’m off. Things flow/fly pretty quickly as I know that I have to “seize the moment” so-to-speak. And I would say that I’ve been writing long enough that, yes, first drafts are close or reasonably close to their final shape. I never make “copious notes.” Sometimes a thought or image will come to me when I’m on the TTC or walking down the street, and I have to stop to write it down. I never go anywhere without a notepad and pen in my pocket.
4 - Where does fiction or a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Reading other poets’ work plays a HUGE part in getting me started. There is no greater feeling, to me, than opening up someone’s book and being taken away into their particular way of rendering the world---their images, their thoughts. And I’m terrible at writing longer pieces. I just don’t have that kind of “breath.” I have a short explosive kind of breath---but I wish I could write a poem that is longer than one page!
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
To be honest, no. I have learned to like public readings, but it hasn’t been easy. I remember my very first reading at an art centre in Charlottetown, and thank God I had a podium to stand behind, because my knees shook so badly, and I kept on looking up at the ceiling and not at the audience. And I read very very fast. Now, it’s okay. I know what to do. Read slowly. Breathe. Try to enjoy yourself. Because my poems are so short, I find I do a lot of “in-between-talking” to the audience. That’s important. Background stories are always important, especially when you write such short pieces like I do.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
No theoretical concerns whatsoever. I don’t know---maybe I should have! When I write, I’m just trying to write about what it’s like to be human---and I know that sounds very very big---but that’s the way I see it. And what I mean about being human includes the boring everyday moments as well. I have never experienced war or lived in a place where I needed to fear for my life, so I am incapable about writing about such experiences. So I end up writing about motherhood or getting older or riding on the subway. Whatever seems to be preoccupying me at the particular stage in my life. If I look back at my last two books (The First Day of Winter (2002, Ronsdale Press) and Carapace (Palimpsest Press, 2011), I’d say birth, death, and rebirth. Not necessarily in that order, though.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
That’s a good question, rob. And, yes, absolutely writers---all artists really---play an incredibly important role in larger culture. People turn to books (and art) to have their questions answered, to feel that they are not alone, and to feel, perhaps, validated. Again, I think all art reflects the human condition in some way, and, so, yes, writers have this “obligation”to talk to the world through words.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It’s always important to have another set of eyes---especially an experienced set of eyes—go over and edit your work. I may not always agree with my editors, and in some cases, I have done what I wanted rather than what they have suggested. And I’m okay with that, and I think a good editor will respect your decision to override them. But you’d better be sure that you feel absolutely confident about your decision as editors are highly skilled in what they do.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Be prepared to “let go of your jewels”---my late brother, Curt, said this to me. He often edited my books and we would have wonderfully spirited arguments about this point. I would often write a line or an image and think it was amazing, and he’d say, “No, no, Laura, it’s not working. It’s too sentimental” Or whatever. So be prepared to “let go of your jewels.” And ego!
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction)? What do you see as the appeal?
I’m mostly known as a poet, but I did write a collection of short stories, Going to the Zoo (Turnstone Press, 2002), and I absolutely loved the process of writing short fiction. To me, it was so much fun and I got to use humour (which I rarely use in my poetry) and show a side of my personality which is really more in tune with who I really am. My poetry tends to be a bit dark because I’m delving into parts of myself and psyche that I normally do not release in everyday discourse. And it’s always an excellent idea to “stretch” yourself as a writer. Try on a different genre. See if it works for you. There are a lot of parallels between short story writing and poetry (economy of words, structural pithiness, and so on).
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I am one of those undisciplined disciplined writers. In other words, I don’t write every day and don’t feel I need to. I might go weeks without writing something, and that’s okay with me. I’m not obsessive about it. The important thing is that I know, when the time is right, I’ll find my way back to my laptop.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I think I might have mentioned this earlier---in other writers’s works. They have always been my greatest inspiration.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Hay. And the smell of old wood.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Definitely music. I love singer songwriters such as Lucinda Williams, Gilllian Welch, and Steve Earle. They are amazing story tellers. I would love to be able to tell a story through music one day.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I’m doing a second M.A. (part time) in Curriculum, Learning, and Teaching at O.I.S.E. The exciting thing about this M.A. is that my thesis will be an “arts-informed” one, where I will have the opportunity to represent my research data in the form of poems and short stories. Of course, I am reading a lot of scholarly qualitative research papers at the moment, and am finding it extremely stimulating.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Like I said in question 14, write lyrics for a song. I was fortunate enough to have one of my poems, “Marbles,” (included in Carapace) used for lyrics for a song composed by Austin composer Stephen Barber. He is one of these incredibly innovative composers who often use poet’s lyrics for compositions. I think he’s now composing songs using lyrics from the American poet Kim Christoff.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I’m going to sound like a broken record here! A songwriter. I also love film, and one day, it would be good to learn this craft.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It took me a long time to figure out what I was going to do. I wondered around like a lot of young people, trying this and that, and living in different parts of Canada, and traveling all over the place. I was going to be a copy writer or a journalist (I knew I always loved words). Then everything changed when I started my creative writing/English degree at York in 1984. I was 24 at that time, and a “mature” student. Oh, to be that “mature” again!
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I am in love with Cormac McCarthy, so I read just about everything he writes. The Road was the last book I read, but I read it three times. A good friend just gave me Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues yesterday. And I’m also reading This is not Chick Lit: Original Stories by America’s Best Women Writers. I read American short story writer, Amy Hempel, over and over again. And David Sedaris. For film, I enjoyed Blue Valentine for its raw and real portrayal of the dissolution of a relationship. Oh and I saw Get Low last week. Great performances by Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek. However, I often return to such great film makers as Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, and Tod Solondz.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m working on a suite of poems connected to my M.A. thesis. They are about the “death of the barn”---a kind of structural and rural domicide. My parents just recently sold their farm in Owen Sound after 35 years. They had two beautiful old bank barns, which the new owner immediately tore down after they bought the place. Tragic. Like cutting down a redwood.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;