Ingrid Ruthig [photo credit: Iwona Dufaj] earned a Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Toronto in the 1980s and practised the profession for more than a decade. Her work as a writer, editor, and artist has appeared widely, with poems published in The Best Canadian Poetry in English, The Malahat Review, Descant, and many other journals and anthologies across Canada and abroad. She is the author of the poem sequence & artist’s book Slipstream, the chapbook Synesthete II, and editor of The Essential Anne Wilkinson, Richard Outram: Essays on His Works, and a forthcoming volume on the work of David Helwig. Her poetry collection This Being was published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside in spring 2016. Ingrid lives near Toronto.
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?
A first book offers a sense of legitimacy, marks you as a paid-up member of the tribe. Even though I’ve been part of the lit community for a long while – remember how we chewed the fat at Toronto’s Small Press Fair way back when? – I skirted around my ‘first’ book by producing so many others: 17 issues of the literary journal I co-edited & co-published from 2000–2007; anthologies; a chapbook; a poem-sequence-artist’s-book; a volume of critical essays I edited about another poet’s work; and a volume of poems I introduced and selected from the work of yet another poet. So, in a way, my first book doesn’t quite feel like a first. While I’m glad now that it didn’t leave home sooner, the pressure to get it out there has finally eased.
Built on all that’s come before, my recent work has settled into its own skin, I think. No more toe-in-the-shallows, all fuck-this-I’m-swimming-for-open-ocean, I’m focused on my own direction, not someone else’s.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Poetry clobbered me and dragged me off to its lair. Even if childhood exposure to hymns, psalms, choral music, and Shakespeare signal formative poetical beginnings, I was into fiction first. However, one career, two children, a few published short stories, one drawered ms, and one burned (yup, I set fire to it, partly so I could say I did) novel later, I’d realized I couldn’t commit to the marriage demanded by fiction. BUT I found I could dip in and out of poems with short, intense bursts of energy and, as I read more and more, gaining my poetic education, I understood how well it suits me, how much I like what it can do.
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 varies. Sometimes I can’t write fast enough – those rare moments when a ‘gift poem’ seems to materialize fully formed out of thin air. Other days it’s worse than pulling teeth – like you’re yanking on the spleen too and getting nowhere. The stubborn poems piss me off, yet I’m oddly suspicious of the obliging ones. I’m far more trusting of the process of steady application and as many drafts as it bloody well takes.
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?
It often begins with an observation, idea, line, or image that hooks into me, aggravates till I get it out and find temporary relief. I prefer not to write with a ‘book’ in mind – I figure the threads of my preoccupations will weave themselves together eventually, to produce something far more interesting than what I could’ve mapped out ahead of time. In other words, I’d rather make discoveries along the way, than work to a plan. All the same, I’m a big-picture person by nature and by training, so some days book ideas fall all over themselves.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
In theory, much like the whole tree-falls-in-the-forest thing, you can write a solid poem, never read it aloud to anyone but yourself (which you must do when you’re working on it), and it would still be a solid poem. However, readings are a testing ground – a way for the poet to offer and for the listener to experience a poem differently. I enjoy them – it’s a buzz to be able to voice the words as you intended them to be heard, then listen for how the audience engages. It’s not exactly part of the creative process, but you do find out pretty quick whether or not the poem has done its job.
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?
Poetry offers a chance for connection, so it should capture more than the obvious. I’m fine with someone writing the ‘duck-on-a-pond’ type of poem, but it seems like a missed opportunity to reach deeper. Beyond that personal objective, and trying to acknowledge our linguistic and literary inheritance, I leave off theory. I want to spend my time paying attention, absorbing and reacting, documenting the what, while accepting that the why will always exist and answers will always be elusive.
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?
Is being a writer a uniform you don, OR, is it a way of being you’ve had no say in? If you write, you observe, question, connect dots, mark incongruities and synchronicities, then offer up the results – because you can’t do otherwise; it’s how you take in the world. Still, that’s only one part of the equation. Readers come to the work on their own terms, and if they’re willing to engage, maybe something more happens – a change of viewpoint, an understanding, a vested interest that nudges out discord. Yeah, sounds grandiose. Bottom line: the written work is the offer of a meeting place.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
No matter how capable an editor you might be with someone else’s work, you can’t always be that for yourself. Another set of eyes on the work is crucial, because when you’ve crept too close to the trees to see the forest, a respectful editor pulls you away from the bark and swings the axe first. In that, I’ve been very lucky – working with Evan Jones has been exhilarating. Hard work, mind. But exhilarating nonetheless.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Hmm, I can’t think of any. Guess it sucked, whatever it was. Or it’s gone because I don’t take kindly to unsolicited advice. Ha.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to visual art)? What do you see as the appeal?
It feels natural, doesn’t even register as a ‘move’ or shift – it’s the way I think. As an architect, you explore and communicate through both language and image, so I’m also used to the process. Taking text into the visual, for example, offers a different experience of the words, a different perspective. Moving between mediums provides another way to play out an idea and find something new, and sometimes it’s simply the only way I can get to where I want to go.
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 try to maintain a routine – news and administrative stuff in the morning, then creative work in the afternoon. That said, I go when the going’s good, which often includes evenings, nights, weekends. The muse doesn’t read the clock and vacation isn’t in my dictionary.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Books. Visual art. Music. Poetry that reboots the brain. Conversation with creative friends. A change of scenery. The lake on a foul-weather day. A challenge. A deadline. Silence.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Lilac, in glorious, heady May-June bloom. And not quite so delightful, though just as potent: fresh-spread manure that damned-near singes the hair inside your nose.
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?
Living informs the work: travel, visual art, history, people-watching, the land (it’s ingrained – my great-great-greats settled in SW Ontario in the early 1800s), and the Great Lakes themselves (same reason).
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
There are several, though the details fluctuate, depending on the day or year. The work of contemporary Irish and Scottish poets sits well with me right now – maybe it’s the inherent musicality, the manifest reverence for language and cultural inheritance.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Indulge my Scottish genes and return to the Highlands. And bide a wee. In a castle.
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 worn several hats. As a kid, the first thing I ever wanted to be was an archaeologist. My parents thought a pianist or artist. I worked in construction, retail, and banking. I became an architect and practised for over a decade. I think I’ll stick with the hats I’m wearing now – the work is much like archaeology, as it happens.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
The other things I’ve done. And all the things I’ve no desire to do.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Tough questions. I’ve really been digging Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie’s collection Waterlight. Film? Jane Campion’s Bright Star – don’t know if it was ‘great’, but I liked it.
20 - What are you currently working on?
More poems. Always the poems. Essays – one is for another volume I’m editing for Guernica’s Essential Writers series, this one about the work of David Helwig. And I’m building a body of visual works for a solo show that will go up in fall 2017.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;