Poets in Profile: Emily McGiffin – at Open Book: Ontario
Find out what inspires, confounds and delights today’s Canadian poets by following our Poets in Profile series.
Emily McGiffin, winner of the Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, has just published her first collection of poetry, Between Dusk and Night (Brick Books). In today’s Poets in Profile feature, she reveals how Dover Beach, The Lorax and an old Toyota Tercel played a part in the writing of her first book.
Emily will be reading in Duncan, BC and Victoria on July 19th and 20th. For more information, visit the Brick Books website.
Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?
For a number of years from high school onwards I was bothered by a stream of insistent questions. It was a sort of ongoing experience of needing to think through things in detail that often drove me pretty crazy. Probably the people around me, too. At that time, reading and writing poetry became part of a process of exploring the workings of the world. I was fortunate, over the years, to have this sort of rumination validated and encouraged by some very inspiring mentors. In 2009 I won the Bronwen Wallace award, which was really the deciding factor that finally made me pull up my socks and put together a book.
What is the first poem you remember being affected by?
I’m sure there were earlier ones, but when I was fourteen I found Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” in a dog-eared copy of The Norton Introduction to Poetry — an old university textbook of my aunt’s. I am still fascinated by what the poem represents: a whole worldview and belief system thrown into doubt by Darwin’s theory of evolution. What a time that must have been.
What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?
Who wouldn’t want to write about Xanadu and Kubla Khan? Or the breath of autumn’s being? Though The Lorax probably takes it.
What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?
I’m inspired by the usual suspects: landscapes, mountains, heartache and loss. On the more unlikely side: the much-loved Tercel hatchback I used to own (it had a cork where the antenna used to be), the huge 19th century European floor loom given to me by a wonderful Dutch friend, artists and activists, anyone who sets out to make the world more beautiful and just.
What do you do with a poem that just isn’t working?
Walk it off.
What was the last book of poetry you read that really knocked your socks off?
The socks fly off every time I open Jack Gilbert’s The Great Fires. I was also blown away by Melanie Siebert’s Deepwater Vee (McClelland & Stewart, 2010) and am equally impressed by Warren Heiti’s debut, Hydrologos (Pedlar Press, 2011).
What is the best thing about being a poet…and what is the worst?
I don’t really call myself a poet. As far as the practice of poetry goes, I would say that the worst thing is not to do it. The best thing is doing it.
Emily McGiffin’s poetry was awarded the 2008 Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers from the Writers’ Trust of Canada and was a finalist for the CBC Literary Awards in 2004 and 2005. She lives in northwest BC.
For more information about Between Dusk and Night and to purchase your copy, please visit the Brick Books website.