Monday, April 17, 2023

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Karen Enns

Karen Enns is the author of four books of poetry: Dislocations, Cloud Physics, winner of the Raymond Souster Award, Ordinary Hours, and That Other Beauty. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

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 marked a commitment to poetry, to writing, that was already there, so it didn’t change my life in that sense, but having the poems in print did make the commitment public, which adds a slightly different perspective.

My most recent work reflects some of the same preoccupations as the earlier poems but the structures are more variable. The pressure on the line has definitely changed over time and I’m more comfortable working with longer poems.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I wrote poems when I was very young and then turned to music for a long time, but I was always drawn to the form, the condensation—when reading, the possibility of being transported in just a few lines. Poetry’s obvious musical component was definitely an inducement.

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?

First drafts of poems often visually resemble their final shape, in the sense that they already have a length of line and a rhythmic pitch, so to speak, but they don’t usually “appear” in any kind of final form. The process is often slow, a chiselling away, but that working out of the lines and arcs, the modulations, is absorbing. It reminds me of learning a piece of music.

I don’t usually make notes, but I’ve probably lost some good ideas along the way because of this.

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 work on a poem, or sometimes several poems at once, without any sense of a longer book form. Much later, when I have a collection of files, I slowly begin to see the possibilities of a larger structure. It’s a bit like standing on a dock watching for a boat to appear out of the fog.

A poem can begin in many ways, but there has to be a recognizable moment for me, a slipping into a different mode of seeing or hearing, with an emotional charge, that generates the impulse of the poem.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I write in solitude, so readings are not part of the creative process itself, but they’re part of a broader cultural conversation in a public sphere, like concerts, plays, films, art exhibits, that is essential for artistic exchange. Everyone benefits from that dialogue. Having said all that, I do get nervous for readings.

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’m not conscious of trying to answer questions with my work. The searching is probably more crucial, not only for creative reasons, but also—I like to think—because whatever the current questions may be, a sense of open-endedness can be transcending.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Absolutely, the writer has a role. I don’t know that it has changed that much through history, although each era has its own particular challenges. But writers often observe from the outskirts. They create a pause, a space, in which it’s possible to imagine other ways of seeing and thinking, other worlds.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

It’s challenging to think hard about inconsistencies or weaknesses in your own work, or to question patterns you rely on, but the process is essential and broadening. And there is the possibility of developing a literary friendship with someone whose editorial work you trust and respect.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Some of the best advice appears in verse itself. Zagajewski’s “Try to praise the mutilated world” comes to mind.

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 write in the morning before the day’s distractions pile up.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

Most of the time, it’s simply a matter of choosing whether to push through or be patient while things settle, but bike rides and hikes are helpful. I’m very fortunate to live near forests and coastlines.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

If I moved away from the west coast, I’m sure it would be the scent of cedar when it rains, but to be back in Niagara again, on the farm, in a second, it’s the smell of turned-up soil in spring.  

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?

I’d say all of the above have influenced my work at various times.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

The writing community in and around Victoria is a strong, lively one, which has been important. Farther afield, the work of writers and thinkers responding to political crisis, violence, displacement, are an important resource for thinking about the future, as well as looking back to my own family/cultural history.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Become fluent in German, my first language; learn Chopin’s B minor Sonata; visit Ireland. The list is long.

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 worked as a classical pianist for a number of years, and still teach, so I’ve had the opportunity to follow a path other than writing.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

A love of reading.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

I recently read Walk the Blue Fields and Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan, as well as a wonderful collection of stories, Motley Stones, by Adalbert Stifter.

19 - What are you currently working on?

Short fiction.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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