Robin Richardson is a Toronto native pursuing her MFA in poetry at Sarah Lawrence in New York. Her work has appeared in many Canadian and international journals including Cv2, The Puritan, filling Station, Dandelion Magazine, The Berkeley Poetry Review, and The Westchester Review. Her first full-length collection of poems, Grunt of the Minotaur, has just been released with Insomniac Press
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book is launching later this week, so can't say much yet about what it feels like to have a book officially out in the world. What I can say is that having a publishing contract really increases the resources that are available to you as a writer. I'm now eligible for many grants, retreats and other perks that I intend to take full advantage of. I'm pretty sure this is going to make life that much more fun and is going to make it that much easier to work on other projects.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I actually didn't come to poetry first. In grade two that I decided I was going to be a writer and for the next fifteen years or so, I was pretty sure that meant writing novels. I'd never given poetry much thought until I was forced to write poems for creative writing class I took while going my undergrad in design at OCAD. Something about it clicked and I've written poetry almost daily ever since. I'd still like to write a novel or two at some point but for now poetry is my main preoccupation.
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?
At any given time I've got about ten poems on the go, each at its own stage of completion. It can take anywhere from a week to a three months, sometimes longer, for a poem to feel finished for me... even then it could probably use some revision.
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?
For me a poem almost always begins with a sound; a word, or short phrase. I carry a notebook with me at all times, in which I jot down interesting sounding combinations of words, bonus if that combination happens to have an evocative notion or metaphor attached to it. In the morning when I start writing, I take one of these word combinations, rewrite it, and let the sounds dictate what words will follow. Usually once I've got a line or two out of this, a narrative or idea will begin to materialize and I'll run with it. I rarely know what a poem is about until it's about half way through.
I don't really think about the book as a whole while I'm writing. I just figure once I have seventy or eighty poems I feel really good about I'll pare them down and edit them into something like a manuscript.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
Public reading is an unavoidable part of being a poet. I enjoy doing reading primarily because it's an excuse to get out of the house and mingle (drink) with my peers. Writing is a very solitary act and it's easy to forget to interact with other human beings, especially when you're deep into a project, so any excuse for writers to get out and socialize is a good thing.
As for the act of reading out loud, I think it really helps with my writing. Knowing that I will be performing a poem makes me focus that much more on making sure it sounds good and is, in some way, entertaining and engaging. There's nothing worse than getting up to perform a poem that you feel is weak in any way.
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 don't answer questions. I have no answers.
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 think the most important thing a writer can do is indulge his or her messiest self. Expose uncertainty, bewilderment, weakness, perversion, etc... with as little restraint as possible. Everything else is boring.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Working with an outside editor is very important. No matter how many times I go over a poem there is always something I've missed. Having an editor who understands your aesthetic and believes in your work is an indispensible asset.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
"Kill your darlings."
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
The more I write poetry, the stronger my writing becomes when I attempt fiction and non-fiction. Granted it takes me longer to write in these other forms as I tend to get caught up on the sounds and structures of the words on a small scale. That being said, I'm very excited to begin working on a piece of long fiction in the near future.
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 pretty strict writing routine. Each morning I head out first thing to a nearby cafe to work for one to three hours. I bring my notebook, laptop, and two or three books for reference or inspiration. Sometimes I'll write non-stop while I'm there, sometimes just read and make notes. It varies quite a bit, but is always productive. After this I may or may not write again later in the day depending on how I feel.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
When my writing gets stalled I take it as a sign to quit for a while and get outside. I make social plans, watch films, go for long walks, visit museums etc. After about a week of this stuff I'm generally refreshed and revved up enough to start writing again.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Steak and cigarette smoke.
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?
Film, music, television, visual art and design, overheard conversations, You Tube, long walks, cityscapes, landscapes, faces, documentaries, clothing, cartoons, newspapers, lectures, train rides, architecture, iconography, typography, scents, sentiments...
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Cormac McCarthy, John Berryman, Virginia Woolf, Milton, Harlan Ellison, Frederick Seidel, Leonard Cohen, Ted Hughes, Dean Young, John Fowles, Graham Greene, James Dickey. That’s the list right now. It’s always changing.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
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?
Palaeontologist or ballerina.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It's the only thing I really ever wanted to do. Never felt like there was a choice.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Book: Heroes and Villains by Angela Carter.
Film: Drive directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, starring Ryan Gosling. I saw this in this theater expecting a typical action flick. I was pleasantly surprised to find out I was wrong… There is nothing typical or expected about this film, very tight and innovative at the same time. Made me feel good again about contemporary film.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I'm a third of the way through a second collection of poetry and am beginning to lay down the groundwork for a poetic gothic romance novel.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;