Thursday, November 02, 2023

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Lynn Tait

Lynn Tait is a Toronto-born award-winning poet and photographer residing in the land of the Anishinaabeg people, now Sarnia, Ontario, where she lives with her husband Robert. She has published poetry in major magazines and journals since 1978 including Contemporary Verse 2, FreeFall Magazine, Windsor Review, Vallum, Feathertale Review, and the Literary Review of Canada, as well as in over 100 anthologies. Her poems have placed and been shortlisted in various contests. She has published a chapbook, Breaking Away, and co-authored a book, Encompass I. Her photography/digital images have appeared on the covers of nine poetry books. She’s participated in workshops with Patrick Lane, Susan Musgrave, George Elliot Clarke, Di Brandt, Alice Major, Ellen Bass, Marie Howe and Karen Solie, John Sibley Williams, Marj Hahne, Lisa Richter and Kim Addonizio. She is the co-founder of a long running workshop which included James Deahl, Norma West Linder and Venera Fazio; Committee Member/Organizer and MC with James Deahl for the Bluewater Reading Series 2014 -2016. Lynn Tait is an associate member of The Academy of American Poets, full member in The League of Canadian Poets, a member of The Ontario Poetry Society and The Writers’ Union of Canada. Her book You Break It You Buy It is now available through Guernica Editions, and local bookstores. She is working on her second book of poetry titled The Realm of In Between.

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?
It didn't. I had to be talked into it. I really loved/love submitting to magazines and journals, so wasn't yet thinking beyond that when the offer came in from Bunny Iskov to please, do a chapbook and she would publish it. The title: Breaking Away meant a lot to me though. I was breaking away from my mother's influence which was very freeing.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I'd written small compositions since I was nine. I was maybe 12 years old, writing a journal, living in a very oppressive household where it was best to keep one's mouth shut. Journalling was the only way I could let anything out. My mother found it and there was hell to pay. She didn't care for my observations or opinions. I was punished severely, but I still had to get "stuff" out. I started writing poetry, and realized my mother had no idea what my poems meant, but she had something to brag to others about. Metaphor saved me. Once I hit high school I was blessed with an incredible Creative Writing and Theatre Arts teacher Sandra Lawrence who I never forgot and was extremely supportive of my writing. I wasn't able to bring myself to journal again until 2016!

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?
I'm not sure I think in terms of projects, I think in singular poems. Some come quickly, especially if through a particular prompt or free writing. I have one poem that took over 50 years to get on paper. The prompt I happened to find provided the idea for the structure and allowed the content to flow. I read a lot of poetry and also essays on craft. Workshops force me to write and are good for discipline and focusing my mind to think beyond content. The project that became If You Break It You Buy It started around 2010 under a different name and theme and went through many changes. I almost quit writing entirely in 2012 after the death of my son. Was going to concentrate on photography. Found out he was very proud of my writing, which I had no idea about when he was alive, so I went back to it.
If I write drafts in longhand there are copious notes, a lot of editing and revision. The work tends to be almost melodramatic. Very messy pages. Very blah blah blah. If I write poetry directly on the computer my focus is better, somehow the structure works itself out, sometimes right from the initial draft. Hence, I prefer to compose from the computer. 

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?
Again, more on single poems, usually. But right now, I'm working on a second manuscript "The Realm of In Between" so if I think it fits, I find a place for it. My poems can begin with a prompt, through workshops, (I attend workshops that are limited in participants, therefore very expensive, but worth every penny). I use quotes that become epigraphs, notes in my journals, and also reading poetry tends to create a rhythm that I can't ignore.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
It took awhile, but I'm less nervous now and enjoy public readings. I don't practice before hand; might change what I read on the fly depending on the audience. Really enjoy Zooming and Zoom readings. Unfortunately, times and days don't always jive with my schedule with on-line readings and it's too expensive to travel to all the various venues. The closest place for readings is an hour away. Geographically, getting to public readings is difficult. There are limited opportunities in Sarnia except at a lovely venue called The Lawrence House and our local bookstore The Book Keeper does wonderful book launches. Climate can limit driving during the winter, and it can be stressful travelling on major highways for a number of hours just to read for 10 minutes. If I lived in a big city I'd go to readings as much as possible.

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 had concerns before You Break It You Buy It came out. The material came from actual events, real relationships that were dysfunctional and toxic. I hoped to reach people who felt isolated from groups, family, so-called friends due to caring for the wrong people or stuck in relationships that were hurtful or harmful. Everyone has some sort of negative element in their lives that is irksome, to say the least. I've researched the heck out of narcissism, dysfunctional behavior and cognitive biases for the last 15 years. I don't believe I have answers. I don't believe I'm trying to answer any questions. I have more questions than anything else. Why can't we get along? Why are we so disconnected? Why aren't more people in therapy?

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?
I find this a difficult question to answer. Perhaps, it depends on what you are writing, who your audience is. How much does one's ego play in that role? It's a huge responsibility to carry if you are well-known publicly as a writer, even if you are just entertaining the masses. A writer's role? To entertain, to teach, to inform, to connect people with each other and themselves, to express what non-writers cannot, but wish they could?

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Oh, not difficult at all. Quite wonderful. I'm all for learning and bettering my craft. I can't do that in a bubble.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Too many pieces of good advice to name. Read poetry. Get it all down – then revise. Assume when you write that the reader is smarter than you.

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?
No, I don't have a writing routine. I'm fairly undisciplined and easily distracted. I'm more a daytime writer, and sometimes can even write with a lot going on around me. As long as you don't stop me to ask questions, I don't always need quiet. I write in my back yard, my kitchen, the living room, as well as my office which is a room of organized chaos. My office loves your office. My typical morning begins with coffee, Wordle, social media, an hour of television, then on to emails. Tuesday and Thursday mornings: four of us Zoom. Two of us are in Ontario, one each in Saskatchewan and California

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
Poetry. Quotations. Essays on craft. Or allow the stall. There's usually a reason. A change in me, my thought processes, some learning process taking place within. A change in writing style sometimes results in a stall. Or I haven't found the right hook, yet. It usually ends up a good thing so I try to go with the stall. I'll work with photography, instead. I love photoshopping.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Home as when a kid: Burning leaves. The smell of tar and coal in Willowdale

In Trenton: The scent of a swamp or bog drying up which is horrible!

My home now: any Yankee Candle scent that doesn't smell like food. Sandalwood. I love scents.

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?
All of the above that you mention. Much note taking regarding nature and science. I wish I could use science in my poetry like Alice Major does. I've always wondered if I'd be better served writing essays about nature especially human nature. There are a few poems based on music and the destruction of our planet in You Break It You Buy It. My second manuscript is nature based, but more about connecting with it. I read a lot of books on animal behaviorism, trees, plants, psychology. Observing the plant and animal drama that goes on in my backyard and the park beyond keeps me busy.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Essays on the craft of poetry, on poetry in general are important to my work. Though I read a lot of Canadian poetry: Karen Solie and Di Brandt have influenced my writing; there's quite a few American poets I find personally important to me, especially Ellen Bass, Diane Seuss, Kim Addonizio and the poetry and essays of Tony Hoagland. Ask me the same question in 5 years and it may be totally different.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Publish another book of poems. Write and publish more essays. Go to Africa.

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?
If I'd been trained and started at an early age I'd pick – a musician and back-up singer.

I once seriously considered dog training. The more I see people with their dogs, the more I wish I had. I've been told I should have been a comedian.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I wasn't allowed music or singing lessons. Sang in choirs all through school, and sang in a barbershop chorus for years. Artistically I have difficulty drawing stick men. Discovered photography too late in life, but it's a great hobby, I exhibit and sell work on occasion and my images and digital art have been on the cover of a number of poetry books. I intended on pursuing journalism, but found the writing too . . . non-literary.

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

The ones I'm currently reading. I've always more than one book on the go. Movie? I watch too many to have an answer.

19 - What are you currently working on?
Before being accepted by Guernica Editions, I took nearly all my poems on grief and grieving out of my poetry collection You Break It You Buy It. I realized they didn't belong in a book centred around toxicity and disconnection. They belonged in the manuscript I am working on – “The Realm of In Between.” Here I explore our connections with each other through our losses, nature and travel. In 2012 we lost our only child to a fentanyl overdose. He was 29. I write not only about the emotion, and its effect on all of us, but the words we use to define it. The complexity of grief.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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