The League of Canadian Poets – the Raymond Souster Award, the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the Pat Lowther Award. Today’s feature is Calgary writer and editor Micheline Maylor, whose book Whirr and Click (Calgary AB: Frontenac House, 2013) is on the shortlist for the 2014 Pat Lowther Award. See my previous Pat Lowther Award shortlist interviews with Anne Compton, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Alexandra Oliver, Sadiqa de Meijer and Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang. The winners to all three awards will be announced on Saturday, June 7, 2014 at The League of Canadian Poets 2014 Annual General Meeting in Toronto.
Micheline Maylor’s many-textured poems explore the liminal space where finite life and infinite time expand and contract into one another. In a duet of contrasts, memory, coming of age, danger, the erotic, and love twine into elegy and wonder. Time plays a featuring role and acts to freeze moments exactly as they arrive and simultaneously stretches experience into ungraspable infinity.
Micheline Maylor teaches creative writing, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and composition at Mount Royal University. She serves as guest editor for Frontenac’s renowned Quartet series for Fall, 2013. She serves as the President and co-founder of Freefall Literary Society, and is the editor-in-chief of FreeFall literary magazine. Her first book is titled Full Depth: The Raymond Knister Poems (2007) and is available through Wolsak & Wynn. Micheline Maylor has a Ph.D. from the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne in English Language and Literature with a specialisation in Creative Writing and 20th Century Canadian Literature.
1. Whirr and Click is your second trade collection of poetry, after Full Depth: The Raymond Knister Poems (Wolsak & Wynn, 2007), and the chapbook Starfish (Rubicon Press, 2011). After two trade books and a chapbook over the space of nearly a decade, how do you feel your concerns as a writer have developed? How do you feel the work, and even the process of writing, has evolved?
I'll start with what hasn't changed. And that is a deep seated belief that poetry is a humanist art form and that its purpose is, at best, to unite interesting language and commonality of human experience. What has changed is my methodology for achieving those ends. In my first book, the story belonged to someone else (Knister), the experience of love and loss wasn't my own. As a new writer, I don't think I had either the bravery or the experience to write my own story. This second book is a far braver thing. In "Starfish", for example, I tell a true story, but with poetic considerations, like syntax, sound, refrain, palindromic mirroring, to, hopefully, create emotional charge and craft. My purpose as a writer is to generate that effect in the reader where they feel connected say, "I wish I had said it like that". You try for that as an author.
2. Who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?
Don Coles. Hands down. Anytime I read his work I feel as though I have an old friend to count on. Don Coles is the best poet in Canada. Period. K in Love still floors me. Forest of the Medieval World is stunning. Another modern master and huge influence on my work is fiction writer Douglas Glover. His use of syntax and sentence are essential examples of line level craft. Ultimately, a writer should always be concerned with HOW it said, perhaps more so than WHAT is said.
3. You’ve lived in Calgary for quite some time, and I’m curious as to how the community of writers around you, as well as the landscape of Calgary, have contributed to your work. Do you think you might have been a different kind of writer had you lived in another part of the country?
The community of writers in Calgary is diverse. If you are looking for it, you can find it in Calgary: cowboy poets, concrete poets, post modern poets, spoken word poets, old poets, brand new poets, modern poets, eco-poets . . . This diversity allows for a whole lot of interesting discussions, for example, Derek Beaulieu is a person that I don't agree with aesthetically, but have a lot of respect for as a creative mind, mentor, and maker. Through these discussion, boundaries are pushed, if the disagreements are about opening ideas and challenging conceptions, rather than bitter and insulting feuds. In this way, discourse leads to energy and excitement about poetry. However, my deepest influences here and those I feel the most kinship with conventionally are these people Richard Harrison, Chris Wiseman, and more recently Rosemary Griebel, Joan Shillington, and Juleta Severson-Baker.
I think where you live is less important than who you talk to on a deep level about the craft, and what you synthesize in your own aesthetics. At this point communication is beyond regional. These discussions happen on-line and in books, they even happen with the long dead. More the questions to ask as an author are: What are you willing try, and what are you willing discard? And do you know the reasons why?
4. In Bruce Hunter’s review of Whirr and Click posted at Canadian Poetries, he speaks of your poems in terms of their “obsession, longing, and Borgesian myth-making.” How do you feel about this description, and how important is an element of story-telling to your poetry?
Narrative is in our DNA. We all love a good yarn. Poetry as concrete never achieves the level of connection a good narrative does, think of Shahrazad, the way you tell a story is a life/death proposition. And Bruce is a smart cookie. He really understood me and the book and the way reality is both a truth and a plasticity, as is poetry. It was an astute observation.
5. What do you feel teaching writing has brought to your writing and writing life? Or are the two entirely separate?
Teaching writing allows for a crystalization of the WHY. Why does a poem fall flat, how does anaphora contribute to an effect, when is a quatrain more or less effective than a prose paragraph, etc. I feel that I am constantly learning and re-learning the tools of the trade. I am constantly in the shop immersed in the details of poetics and writing. It is very beneficial in every way except time. Teaching requires full attention, and when that attention is given to students, it's taken away from the selfish act of writing for yourself. No the two are never separate. It's always a balancing act.
6. Literary awards have been known to shine spotlights on individual works and authors, as well as writing generally, but has also sometimes brought with it a particular kind of pressure, and a frustration for those works overlooked by awards. As a writer, reader and, now, shortlisted writer, what are your feelings on literary award culture generally?
Well, that's a complex question. As a writer, it's such a thrill to be recognized, if only for the thrill of knowing someone besides your ten friends read the book, and more than that, liked it. It is a bit like being an A student. Nice, but there are ten other A students in the class who worked just as hard and are equally deserving. Writing, for me, is about me and the page, not me and the gala. That's the wrong sort of motive that will ulitmately lead to disappointment.
As a reader, I understand what variations in climate can do to that short list and how on any given day, with any given variation of jury, an entirely different set of books could be selected and the criteria could be entirely different too. As a short-listed writer, it's good to remember how fragile these lists really are. It's not a thing to pin to your ego, it's more like winning a door prize - a nice thing, a bonus, but it shouldn't make or break you. Just go back to honing your craft because you love to hone your craft and have some champagne regardless of outcome. You deserve that much.