Wanda Praamsma grew up in Clayton, Ontario, near Ottawa. Her first book, a thin line between, appears this fall through BookThug. Her poems have been published in ottawater, seventeen seconds, and Feathertale, and several literary non-fiction pieces have appeared in the Toronto Star, where she worked for several years as an editor. Praamsma currently lives in Kingston, Ontario.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Publication-wise, I’m not sure yet, but writing and finishing a thin line between was a big leap for me, out of journalism and into poetry. It solidified something I knew about myself – that I’m a poet – but didn’t enact fully until taking the time to really explore myself on the page.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I came to non-fiction first, as a journalist – but there were always poems there, too. I always saw, and still see, headline-writing as a form of poetry.
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?
It seems to come fairly quickly, and then I do a lot of whittling-down. Some poems come out very close to final shape, but for my long poem, I whittled and whittled quite a lot of the prose-y parts.
4 - Where does 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?
I am very much a jotter-downer of things, and then I begin to piece things together. The long poem seems to be a form I enjoy. Everything seems to begin short, in short pieces, and then combines into a whole.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I haven’t done many readings yet but I do imagine they will form part of the process in some way. I’ve always loved reading aloud. It’s also a chance to voice how I heard it all in my head while writing.
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?
I have a hard time even wrapping my head around the phrase “theoretical concerns.” I’m sure they’re there, but others can figure out what they are. Certainly there are a lot of questions. The big one: who am I? and also, who are you? For a thin line between – I wanted to explore my family, on both sides of the ocean, and how I fit within that family. Art and love and death emerged from that.
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?
I see the writer’s role as the same as any artist: to uncover, unravel, reveal and expose. Within both the personal and beyond-personal (social) realms.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Fairly essential. Difficult, too. I’ve been an editor myself, and they see things you don’t. But I think every writer should be ready to protect their work – there are times when you need to be very hard-headed. (I suppose this comes more from my work as a journalist than as a poet. Editing is a different beast in the newsroom.)
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
At a crucial moment in writing my book, and not knowing if it was finished or not, a poet-friend said to me, something like, “Our writing changes. We change.” Right then, I knew it was done – or very close to being done. It was time to move on.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I am just starting to get into critical prose so I’m not sure yet how easy or difficult it is.
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 have a little baby now so there is no routine. I write and read while nursing, and when baby sleeps. I used to get up, do yoga, write for a bit, read for a bit, then repeat. On days I worked elsewhere, I’d still get up and do yoga and write, but then also try to write on lunch breaks and on the ferry to and from Wolfe Island, where I used to live (now I’m on the mainland, in Kingston).
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
When my writing’s stalled, it’s generally because I have too much else going on. It means it’s time to pare down, clear the mind. Then the words come again. I need space to catch thoughts. Doing yoga, meditating, long walks – they all give me that. But also, visiting art galleries, travelling, and reading – not just poetry, but prose and books on yoga and eastern philosophy.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
There’s a line in a thin line between: the smell of parsley reminds me of my mother
so there’s that – and nutmeg, too.
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?
Visual art, especially. I like my words to spring from sculpture, pottery, painting, fibre art. I find great freedom in examining/observing/peering into other people’s work. I like to find an abstract puddle to dance in.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
For my work, particularly this first book, the Dutch Fiftiers (Vijftigers), a group of experimental writers and artists that emerged in the Netherlands and Belgium after World War II. My grandfather, Bert Schierbeek, was a member. At the time of writing this long poem, I was reading lots of the Fiftiers – not much poetry by any others – but also lots of novels, especially Haruki Murakami and Arundhati Roy.
Also important and much loved are Daphne Marlatt, Sheila Heti, Phil Hall, Alan Watts, Garcia Marquez, Neruda.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Visit Shikoku in Japan, and be a pilgrim to the 88 Buddhist temples on the island.
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’ve always been intrigued by the workings of cities, especially transit/transportation – how people move through cities and act in those buses, streetcars, subways ... so maybe a city planner of sorts ... but I don’t really believe there’s much choice when it comes to what you do – if you’re in tune with yourself, you land deep in what you should be doing – and writing is what I should be doing.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
See above, but also, when I was little, I went through a series of what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-ups, all based on TV shows(!). I wanted to be a marine biologist because I loved whales and we used to watch Danger Bay. Then we watched Street Legal and I wanted to be a lawyer. Then it was Superman, and I decided on journalist. Somehow journalist stuck, because I then went to journalism school. But, seriously, it was when I started writing for the local paper in high school that I decided I wanted to write. Then, once I was in the journalism world, I realized I wanted something more through my writing – that’s when I started writing poetry.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I just read Dionne Brand’s No Language is Neutral and loved it. Read 1Q84 and Kafka on the Shore by Murakami earlier this year, and both are very good. I am not so much a film enthusiast/connoisseur, but I was just given a dvd copy of Out of Africa – still my favourite.
20 - What are you currently working on?
Another long poem. And there’s a novel simmering on the far burner.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;