Welcome to the first installation of [the League of Canadian Poets’] 2016 “Meet the Shortlist” blog series! Throughout National Poetry Month, we’re excited to introduce you to all the poets shortlisted for our book awards: the women shortlisted for our Pat Lowther Memorial Award, the new poets shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and the League members shortlisted for our Raymond Souster Award. The winners of these awards will be announced on Saturday, June 18 at a special awards luncheon at the Canadian Writers’ Summit. Visit poets.ca/conference for more details! Find a complete shortlist for all of our awards here.
MEET MAUREEN HYNES
MAUREEN HYNES, The Poison Colour
Maureen Hynes’s first book of poetry, Rough Skin, won the League of Canadian Poets’ Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry by a Canadian. Subsequent collections are Harm’s Way from Brick Books, Marrow, Willow and her most recent, The Poison Colour, both from Pedlar Press. She is a winner of the Petra Kenney Poetry Prize (London, England), and her poems have been included in Best Canadian Poems in English (2010), and twice longlisted for the CBC Canada Reads poetry contest. Maureen is poetry editor for Our Times magazine.
What was your favourite part of writing this book? It’s always a challenge to compile a collection that is not uni-thematic, that is, all about one main subject. And in the case of The Poison Colour, I was pulling together poems across a range of styles. I enjoyed sorting and re-sorting my folder of poems into several types of categories to create sections. Since I wanted the poem called “Elemental” to be at or near the front of the book, I tried ordering the poems by the elements — earth, air, fire, water, and the Chinese also include a fifth, metal. Of course this was an arbitrary process, whereby I had to “weigh” each poem to determine its predominant element. In the end, I used a less defined and more intuitive way of ordering the poems, but it’s interesting to see that each section retains a core of its original “element.”
What was the hardest part? I think most poets find the very final editing stages a bit gruelling – the work that was once exciting starts to feel stale after so many workings-over. In those moments, I find it challenging to remain true to my own poetic intentions for each poem, and curious about and open to suggestions. Veering between certainty and uncertainty about individual poems: the editing process sharpens that, but also ultimately clarifies.
Where did you spend most of your time writing? Because I almost always start poems longhand in a notebook, I write anywhere – cafés, restaurants, public transit, other people’s living rooms, and in the big red armchair in my study. What helps me in getting started is reading poems – I find it moves me onto the “meditative ground” that writing a poem requires, as Don MacKay once said in a workshop. Roadblocks? Overbooking myself, taking on too much, not leaving enough room for the writing I want to do, or discovering what I want to write.
What were three major Canadian influences on this book? Literary or otherwise. Oh, dear! In fact there are many non-Canadian poets who make appearances in The Poison Colour – Louise Glück, Federico Garcia Lorca, Seamus Heaney, Joanne Kyger, Emily Dickinson, Philip Whalen, Lorine Niedecker, Charles Olson, James Schuyler. Some of these I discovered through my own study, but many are from Hoa Nguyen’s classes in Toronto, which have led me to take a more experimental path.
A great number of the poems that found their way into this book are products of poetry retreats – Barry Dempster’s in Chile; Gerry Shikatani’s “Lorca’s Granada” in Granada, Spain. Both of these poets have had a huge and sustaining influence on my poetics, and my practice.
Who is one up-and-coming writer you think everyone should start reading right away? Can I give you two? The multi-talented Vivek Shraya, whose new book, Even this page is white, is coming out this spring from Arsenal, and Kim Trainor, whose poetics in Karyotype (Brick, 2015) inspired and moved me enormously.
How do you feel being a member of the League has contributed to your professional journey as a poet and writer? Oh, in so many ways – obviously, the funding for readings and sustaining reading series across the country, and the services the League’s wonderful staff provide. Of course the League’s award nominations and awards are of huge importance to individual poets and publishers. And finally, I find that poets are very regionally identified – Ontario poets don’t know the BC or Nova Scotia poetry scenes, so the League is invaluable in bringing us together and strengthening our sense of a national poetic community.