Cobourg Poetry Workshop
feature poet

lorna crozier

Lorna Crozier has published fifteen books of poetry, including The Blue Hour of the Day: Selected Poems; Whetstone; Apocrypha of Light; What the Living Won't Let Go; A Saving Grace; Everything Arrives at the Light; Inventing the Hawk; Angels of Flesh, Angels of Silence; and The Garden Going On Without Us. She has also edited several anthologies, among them Desire in Seven Voices and, with Patrick Lane, Addicted: Notes from the Belly of the Beast and Breathing Fire: Canada's New Poets. Born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, she now lives in British Columbia, where she teaches at the University of Victoria.


16 books of poetry, a Governor-General's Award, the Dorothy Livesay Prize for Poetry, the Pat Lowther Award, to name just a few honours you have received as one of Canada's premier poets ... what's next in your remarkable career?

I've just had another manuscript accepted by Greystone Books. Its called Book of Marvels: An ABC of Things and it's a series of around 60 prose poems or lyrical meditations on objects. I'm really excited about it right now. It's been on the go for about three years and I worried about placing it because it isn't easily definable. Greystone got what I'm trying to do and they're willing to take a risk on it. Since they did such a great job with publishing my memoir, I'm pleased.

Where will your tour to promote "Small Mechanics" take you?

It's already taken me to Dawson Creek in northern B.C. and Vancouver to read at the Public Library. In April and May I'll be at the Arts Bar in Toronto, your festival in Cobourg, the Ottawa Literary Festival, Sechelt (BC), the Drumheller and Medicine Hat Libraries. In the fall I'll be reading at the Eden Mills' Festival and back east to Toronto, Guelph, London and then to Calgary. After that, it's Winnipeg, and Deadwood, N. Dakota, believe it or not. I have a pair of cowboy boots (I bought them in 1992 from my Governor General's Award money) so I'll be ready to kick some dust up.

There are several veins that course through your poetry; even though you now live and work in Victoria, your growing-up years in Saskatchewan, farm life, family, nature, childhood, seem to draw you back. Reading "Small Mechanics", at times, I felt I was browsing through an old photo album of black and white, Kodak images. The poem "My Father, Riding", acts as a prelude to things to come.

I don't think we ever get to leave our childhoods, whether we want to or not. So much that is essential to our worldview, the formation of our personalities, our moral stance, gets shaped in those early years of living. I love this quotation by the American poet Alice Derry: 'Within the walled city, family,/ all the love and hate a body needs."
It's interesting that you say you felt you were browsing through an old photo album. I don't own a camera--never have--something about photos depresses me deeply. Instead, I use language to frame the feelings that those lost bits of time create in me. I've been told I'm a very visual poet. Perhaps my avoidance of photographs pushes me to depend more on memory than on snapshots to evoke a person or place forever lost. I struggle to find words for what words can never capture.

For me, one of the most powerful poems in the book is "My Father Face To Face", a heartbreaking poem of guilt written with brutal honesty.

Yeah. I had a troubled relationship with my father (see my memoir, Small Beneath the Sky) because of his selfishness and alcoholism. It took years for me to look at him not with anger but with some kind of understanding and empathy. Living with Patrick Lane helped a lot. One of the things he taught me was to see my father as a person beyond his being the disappointing parent in my life. I loved him, too,of couse, or things would have been easier. I've written quite a few poems about him. I don't now if I'm done yet.

Likewise, "The Dead Twin" and "The Dead Twin 2".

Twins have always fascinated me, maybe because I'm a Gemini. The Greeks, of course, tell that wonderful story of all of us being born as a creature that is a fusion of two bodies. We get separated at birth and spend the rest of our lives trying to get back together. The dead twin poems try to turn into metaphor and language my deep feeling of loneliness. Why, no matter what, is there this sense of something missing, something lost? Could it be a result of my having a brother or sister in the womb and only one of us made it out? Then I discovered the reality of "paper foetus"--it's a medical term that doctors are familiar with and some of them have seen. Medical science confirms that most of us do start out, just after conception, as two but only the stronger one survives. How fascinating is that? How sad? I think I share this feeling of loss with many other human beings, whether we're single or married, whether we have children or don't. At the core of who I am is a vein of loneliness; writing has become my way of trying to reach out and connect with others, both members of my own species and of other species, though I can't speak their language.

Writing as therapy?

Nope. Writing as art.

You capture rural life, farm life, so simply, so dead-on ... from the elements, wind, snow, that thread quietly through your work, to relationships between humans and, also, in their interaction with nature and livestock.

--As a kid (again check out the memoir) every Sunday I visited my grandparents' farm which was only 30 miles from the town where I grew up. I loved the silence of the country, the way the wind found a home there, the chickens and their nests where I'd look for eggs, the new-born calves. I was a city kid but I knew the rural was in my bones. Unlike my cousins, who lived on the farm, the chores like priming the pump for water and the day-to-day images, like old barns, worn harnesses and swallows, were magical. My brother and I were the first generation in a long line of Welsh and Irish ancestors who didn't start out on a farm. Now, I live on the edge of a city and I can't make it through the day if I don't get outside. There's a pond outside my office window at home where I work. right now I'm looking at a turtle who's just drawn herself up out of the mud to meet the spring and a robin pulling worms from the moss.

The honesty you bring to your poetry is, also, well displayed, courageously, in more personal poems such as "My Last Erotic Poem", "Taking the Measure", "Getting Used To It..." (I hope you'll read one or more in Cobourg)

I will read at least one of those. There's no sense in writing poetry if you're not going to be honest. That doesn't mean "confessional" but, in my case, as close to the bones as I can be about living my short, short life on earth. There are lies in poems, too, or at least inventions that further the story or the lyrical moment. I think what you're talking about is emotional veracity, because the "I" in lyric poetry is both the writer and someone else. This is one of the reasons that poetry is not therapy. I want the reader to believe the truth the poem is exploring not my "truth." And what convinces me as a reader is the language--its lucidity, its surprises--and the music of the words that act on my subconscious, not my logical mind.They allow me to create the story I want to be in as well as the one "that really happened."

One of the delights of "Small Mechanics" is the uncertainty ... the anticipation of turning the page from the delightful "The Bad Poem to Needles", about raising a runt of a litter.

No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader, Robert Frost said. I have a magpie-like mind. I dive for any bright thing. It doesn't have to connect with what I've just written--at least not in any linear way. At the end of three years or so, I find I have a bundle of poems that can sit beside each other though their links may be clandestine. That's the way I've been writing poetry--with a couple of exceptions when the poems made up a thematic book (one based on a retelling of the Old Testatment, the other on Sinclair Ross's As For Me and My House}--for the last twenty years.

How do you feel about "Small Mechanics", now that its finished and bound?

--Don't know yet. It feels like someone I used to know and am fond of who has finally found the time to drop in and visit. I wonder where some of the poems came from. How did I get that idea? I ask myself.

How do you shift gears from teacher to poet?

It's hard to do so, especially right now, the last weeks of classes. I'm drowning in meetings and marking and I'll continue to be a teacher only until the term is done.

These days, it seems that poetry has no boundaries ... Slam, performance, prose, as well as the more traditional. Your thoughts?

There's room for all kinds of poetry and all kinds of readers/listeners.

Your reading at the POW Festival here in Cobourg is eagerly anticipated.

Thanks. I'm looking forward to being there.

Anything you'd like to add?

Nope. Thanks for taking the time to carefully read the book.

Copies of Small Mechanics can be purchased at POW! Event # 5 - Saturday April 16 when Lorna Crozier will be reading, starting at 7.30
Check out Lorna's Book Signing on Sunday April 17th

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