É.G.N. Lafleur is a new poet living in Tkaronto. She has been published in Feed Lit Mag, Coven Editions, and Deathcap and is attempting to forget her past of youth poetry competitions and journals. She writes to work out the questions raised in her academic work on medieval English history and literature through poetry and fiction. When she is not busy as a jobbing library assistant, drop in worker, and archives lackey, she fosters cats.
You can read her poem, Caedmon’s Hymn, in our July 2022 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?
The title and concept are from an Old English poem ostensibly by an illiterate cowherd –Caedmon– who was suddenly given the ability to compose virtuosic poetry. So Caedmon has this strong connection to miserable conditions and manual labour. He also inhabits the shadowy apocryphal realm of early British Christianity – saints we believe in because they are first and foremost beautiful stories. Like the veracity of Caedmon’s story, the language he wrote in – Old English – is one of those things that is difficult to translate for both the sense and the beauty of the words themselves. When I wrote this poem I was reading bp Nichol’s Martyrology, which plays on those tropes of mythical, larger than life saints. I would also like to acknowledge my friend’s large orange rescue cat, Caedmon. This poem is for you even though you’re scared of me, bud.
Do you have a collection of poetry or even a single poem that acts as a touchstone or a lodestar?
“Rain Down Can” by Kit Fryatt! I memorized the first few lines without even trying:
Heartbreak is a man in a coat
prayer him stooping for a Gatling gun
so I have left my slippers & come
to the holy land of Walsingham
I write, Mr Breakheart it’s all fake
as it was in fifteen sixteen
lipstick incense bribes and drink
& he replies ccing me in on
his pavane for the birdless firmament.
These lines do a few things that have formed what I think is possible in poetry. Fryatt often uses themes, incidents, and language from medieval and early modern England –Walsingham was a pre-Reformation place of pilgrimage in East Anglia and taps into the English tradition of semi-religious semi-superstitious holy ground and the title is taken from the medieval poem Western Wind. As a historian by training, I write poetry instead of going to grad school. But my poetry does the same things my thesis might, works out the same themes and anxieties and resonances – the stories that lie underneath the land, attempting to claw back into the oldest and most lost beliefs and practices. My poetry is loaded with allusions and references. It draws heavily on earlier texts, responding to and adapting them. The attention he gives to rhythm –not formal meter, as far as I can tell, but a rhythm that makes the poetry pleasing to say out loud– is also very important to me. Caedmon’s Hymn has a similar percussive beat to it.
If you didn’t write poetry, how do you think you might access the same fulfillments that poetry offers in your life?
I belong to a heavily liturgical Anglican church and liturgy has a lot of the same rhythm as poetry does. It brings me to a similar measured place. The words of the Book of Common Prayer also satisfy my craving for beautiful language. It’s a document that’s been revised many times but it was first written in 1549 and it has an incredibly elegant structure – lots of its sentences use parallelism and repetition to great effect.
What are you working on now?
A few novel drafts, desultorily. I find the scale of novels incredibly challenging because I’m used to the short intensity of poetry.
How or where or with what does a poem begin?
That’s changed over time for me, but right now it’s from a moment and the collected sense impressions and preoccupations that all sit together.
Are there other art forms that inspire or inform your poetry?
Renaissance music! Polyphony, especially Thomas Tallis and William Byrd’s, has a kind of space spiraling upwards inside it that I try to put into my poetry. I often use lines from Renaissance music to shape the direction of my poems.
How do you make space for poetry in your daily routine?
I like to write right before bed in the semi-dark. That’s one of the reasons I don’t think I’d make much of a professional poet – my poetry comes and goes, and there are months at a time when I absolutely can’t put words together.