An Interview with Catherine Graham

photo credit: Marion Voysey

Poet and novelist, CATHERINE GRAHAM’s hybrid memoir, Æther: An Out-of-Body Lyric, was a finalist for the Toronto Book Award, Trillium Book Award and won the CAA’s Fred Kerner Book Award. The Celery Forest was named a CBC Best Book of the Year and was a finalist for the Fred Cogswell Award. She leads the Toronto International Festival of Authors’ Book Club, co-hosts The Hummingbird Podcast, and teaches creative writing at University of Toronto Put Flowers Around Us and Pretend We’re Dead: New and Selected Poems appears this spring.

You can read her poem Dreamwrapt in the April 2023 issue.

Would you like to tell us a little bit more about your poem? For instance, how or why you wrote it, or perhaps provide some extra context? 

I am fortunate to have lines of poetry appear in my dreams. These are scribbled in a bedside notebook, and if I can decipher the writing, provide much raw material for my current poems. Many lines in Dreamwrapt came to me this way. Weaving these dreamlines to find the poem within, I use them as strands to uncover the poetic logic as I follow the undercurrent of emotion, voice, tone and story.

Why was the poetic form the best fit for this particular piece of work?

From the start, Dreamwrapt called out for couplets. My mother was a skilled sewer—clothes, crafts—anything really. I’m not talented that way but perhaps I sew with words. The dreamlines I’m compiling are like strips of fabric I stitch into poems. 

How do you revise your work? 

After letting the first draft sit for a while, I go back to it with fresh eyes. I move lines around, rearrange stanzas, consider alternative titles and so on. I value play and possibility. I try to open the poem up to listen more deeply and see what else it might do. I read my drafts out loud to hone the sonic architecture. I cut and condense.

What are you working on now? 

I’m about to publish my seventh poetry book, Put Flowers Around Us and Pretend We’re Dead: New and Selected Poems, so I’ll be promoting that for the next while. I’m also teaching creative writing at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, co-hosting The Hummingbird Podcast with Jessica Outram, and leading the Toronto International Festival of Authors’ monthly Book Club. Since the creative process never ends (thankfully!), I’m working on the next poetry manuscript. This September I’ll be returning to Northern Ireland where I once lived and studied poetry. I’m honoured to have been invited to read at the Heaney HomePlace again.

Have you ever received advice (or has there been something you’ve learned on your own) about writing or revising poems that has made you a better poet? What was it? 

Years ago, as a beginning writer, I read Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Marie Rilke. Among the many insightful things he says in his letters, I return to this: “Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself.” It’s the inner journey that keeps me going, the growth of my imagination. Whenever I experience doubt or am low in confidence about my efforts, I go back to what matters most to me as a writer—memories of my parents and the water-filled limestone quarry we lived beside. So, my advice? Find your creative wellspring. Protect it. Fiercely.

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