Cobourg Poetry Workshop
feature poet

Eric Winter


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How did you come to poetry in your life and when did you start writing poetry?
From the beginning. When I went to school we had to learn things - know them by heart. I was at sea during the war and much of the time I had nothing to do. I read poetry. Pastoral stuff 'Just now the lilac is in bloom /all before my little room.' It was an antidote. At that time I was a reader. I did not become a writer until much later when I was in a college that was a major centre for poetry. It was then I started to write.

What is 'poetry' to you?
It is a constant challenge There is too much to say and too little time to say it.

How would you describe your work?
I can more easily say what it is not. It is not, or rarely has been confessional. I frequently tell a story and if it was somebody else's work I would say that it often had a wry turn. Narrative poetry went out of fashion long ago - with Tennyson, but I like it. I do also have work that is simply reflective or lyrical. I have been called an ironist. That is not necessarily a compliment, because it often goes with being uncommitted.

What are your thoughts on prose poetry?
I'm not quite sure how to answer that. The style of poetry is never still. Old English poetry had alliteration and no rhyme, regular rhyme came later and that has declined. Now we have free verse which has both irregular metre and irregular rhyme and also blank verse which has regular metre and no rhyme. Prose poetry is like free verse and if you are just listening you wouldn't know the difference. It is in the layout. A prose poem is printed like prose with a right hand margin instead of line breaks. I like all forms. I think free verse, and hence pose poetry, offers the best chance to change the pace in a reading. It makes listening easier. I generally use regular rhyme only when I'm having fun.

Who are your favourite Canadian poets?
I would once have said B.P. Nichol, P.K. Page, and Richard Outram but I hear so many good young poets at our Thursday meetings that I can't say I have favourites any more. After all favouritism takes some time to mature.

And, of course, other than Canadian?
Again I can't say I do have any. I like bits of so many; The overwhelming majority however are in the English language from Langland to Larkin and Lowell .

What has been the greatest influence on your poetry?
As I said in the beginning I found myself among poets and something rubbed off. But that might not be what you want. The greatest influence is the need to do something that is without utility. Like the paintings in Altamira it is a way of reflecting on life. There's only so much reflection one can do alone. One needs an audience. It can be a sophisticated or naive audience and the poetry responds accordingly. I mean audience in general terms. I don't just mean as poets. Poetry is just a special way of talking, anybody can do it and, like talking, it needs a listener.

If you read in July, will it include any new work?
Certainly there will be work that is new to the listener and, with luck, there will be work that is also new to me.

As one of the founders of the CPW, and having brought many new members to it, how do you feel about its growth and its role in Cobourg and beyond?
If I had slogan for my term it would have been 'Poetry for Cobourg.' If I have a slogan for the future with Jill Battson it would be 'Cobourg for Poetry.' That's a good progression . My interests were purposely parochial and, by the way, I was certainly not alone in keeping the workshop alive. At the best I might have been primus inter pares.

How do you see its future?
Very Promising: a new laureate and good management at the CPW. James Pickersgill has got both energy and enthusiasm and he's is getting good support from the group.

What books are you reading these days?
At the moment they happen to be eighteenth and nineteenth century writers. Zola, Stendahl, Rousseau and Sam Johnson. No Poets.

Anything you'd like to add?
Not much, though I think poetry, like any art, suggests something other than itself. Even agitprop does that though it doesn't mean to.

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