Michelle Brown's work has appeared in The Walrus, Arc, The Puritan, CV2, The Malahat Review and Prism, amongst others. A runner up for the Young Buck poetry prize and the CBC poetry prize, her debut collection is Safe Words (Spring 2018, Palimpsest Press). Originally from Victoria, she now lives in 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?
I have a better opener at parties now, but that’s about it!
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I’ve got a painfully short attention span and tend to live and die on my weird whims so poetry was what fit.
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 comes quickly! I write in short little bursts of stolen time between day job obligations, dog walking, side-business running, etc. so it always ends up a little frenetic. My patient editors sift through the mess later, which I’m ultra grateful for.
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?
Always a book! I love having lofty plans for myself (that rarely pan out, o’ course) but it keeps me accountable. Plus, as above, I like having something to brag about at parties.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
They’re my absolute favourite part. (I’m a double Leo and an Aries rising – yikes!) I love testing things out in a room, making people laugh (if I’m lucky), telling a good tale, etc. I also LOVE writers who can really command a room (thinking of Light Zachary, Meghan Harrison, Safiya Sinclair, Danez Smith, Aisha Sasha John especially) – that performative, cacophonous, jovial part of poetry is often uncelebrated and it’s a real shame.
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 lofty questions, usually. I’m still just trying to figure my own shit out. I’m a big proponent of the literary diary. (Though, of course, I’d be tickled if someone saw themself in my stuff!) I love peeling apart my past experiences & twisting them around. Themes that tend to emerge are questions around selfhood, anxiety, female friendships, sex stuff, marriage, codependency – all very fun and fluffy.
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 anyone who writes has a divine responsibility to question their beliefs, even (especially) if it’s uncomfortable.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I like it! I’m pretty detached from my work by the time it gets to the editing stage, so no hard feelings. Plus, I was an advertising copywriter for a long time and that gave me a good thick skin.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Always start before you’re ready.
10 - 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’m really trying to get more of a routine going. I’m stupid busy but trying to be less so (and hate that as an excuse!). I can’t write unless I’m out of the house, at a coffee shop, blaring loud music & without any connectivity to the internet whatsoever.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Poetry, forever, always.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Salt, fir, firewood, lavender.
13 - 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?
Sitting beside people who are on a first date at a restaurant, that part in a song when the mood changes and you can feel it vibrate, a dance floor where no one’s wearing shoes – sorry, that’s such an annoyingly twee answer but I really do get inspired by daily magic!
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Aisha Sasha John, Natalie Shapero, Matthea Harvey, John Ashbery, Robert Hass, Suzanne Buffam, Carl Phillips, Souvankham Thammavongsa are all perfect writers. Vincent Colistro is important for my life outside of work.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
I’d like to write another book!
16 - 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 have an online fabric store and find it the most fun. Running a small business is really where I feel my best and get to access all the skills that are dormant while I write (spreadsheets! taxes! customer service!). When I was a kid I wanted to be a figure skater who also sang and wrote poetry – is there still time?
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
Bad at math AND science.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
The Vegetarian by Han Kang. I’m still reading Chicken by Lynn Crosbie but I’m convinced it’s great, too. Burning was a capital-G GREAT film – recently saw that and pretty sure I was agape the entire time.
19 - What are you currently working on?
A new book! I can’t say too much (mostly because I am very superstitious) but it will be debaucherous.