An interview with Frances Boyle

Frances Boyle’s third poetry collection, Openwork and Limestone, will be published by Frontenac House in fall 2022. In addition to two earlier poetry collections, she is also the author of Seeking Shade, an award-winning short story collection, and Tower, a novella. Frances’s writing has been selected for the Best Canadian Poetry series, nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and appeared throughout North America and internationally. Recent and forthcoming publications include work in Blackbird, Paris Lit Up, The Madrigal, QWERTY and The New Quarterly.

Her poem Springing is part of Pinhole Poetry’s launch issue.

(photo credit John W. MacDonald)

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? 

My little poem “Springing” has been around for several years, in various iterations, so it is difficult to be sure exactly how I wrote it. As I recall, the first thing that came was an awareness of how slight and pale the earliest green growth of spring is, and noticing how quickly afterwards the trees come into full leaf. Linking the young leaves to the young women was no doubt inspired by teenagers in my neighbourhood newly freed of winter garb and getting ready for the changes summer would bring.

Do you have a collection of poetry or even a single poem that acts as a touchstone or a lodestar? 

Probably the poem that is closest to a touchstone for me in Gwendolyn MacEwen’s “Dark Pines Under Water”. I love the reflectiveness (literal and figurative) of it, how she evokes sub-surface memories. Coincidentally, MacEwen’s poem, like “Springing”, has a lot of green: forest and deep lake. And the resonance of that killer last line “There is something down there and you want it told”.

What are you working on now? 

I am just wrapping up the final edits on my next poetry collection, Openwork and Limestone, which is coming out with Calgary’s Frontenac House this fall. My wonderful editor John Wall Barger really dug deep, so it has been a longer process than on my previous poetry books, but a very rich and rewarding one. Once that book is in the publisher’s hands, I can return to my next project, a novel with the working title Skin Hunger. I have a nearly complete second draft of the novel, but had to put it aside for the poetry edits, and am keen to dive back in. And I have some short story concepts – speculative fiction this time – that I’m itching to turn into drafts.

How or where or with what does a poem begin? 

My poems almost always start in freewriting: keeping the pen moving without thinking too much, letting associations of words and images arise, playing with sounds. A poem may be sparked by an image or a line from another writer, or by a specific exercise / challenge. Very often, such prompts are ones suggested in a workshop, or by a member of my writing group. A theme may be suggested, but I have had little success consciously writing to a specific event or topic, even if it’s one that I’d really like to explore. The “aboutness” of such a project tends to stymie me or make the effort feel wooden. I’ve had greater success sifting pearls from the compost pile of the freewrite as I begin the (frequently long) process of shaping and refining until something that looks like a poem emerges.

Are there other art forms that inspire or inform your poetry? 

Both music and visual art often make their way into my poems. I have written several ekphrastic poems inspired by specific pieces of art, but I also allow images, whether from art or from nature, to push the direction of other poems. I am not someone who can have music playing while I write, since I find it too distracting even if there are no lyrics. But I almost always have some scraps of songs – random top 40s from years ago, or traditional songs, even theme music from old TV shows – running through my head and no doubt influencing the rhythms of my poems.

How do you make space for poetry in your daily routine? 

I retired from my day job a few years ago, so I theoretically have unlimited space in my daily routine (the “theoretically” is key!). I know how quickly the day can dissolve though, so I try to maintain somewhat of a schedule: generative work is most often in my weekly writing group, while creation and editing of the actual poem drafts is spurred by a deadline or desire for feedback. And researching potential places to submit is in itself part of writing – before I consider submitting to a magazine, I’ll reserve time to read from recent issues or whatever content they make available on their website, so I am constantly discovering new-to-me writers and stunning poems which can inspire new directions in me. 

Do you belong to a writer’s group? If not, where do you find poetry community and feedback? 

I do belong to a writers’ group; in fact, I am part of three groups, two for poetry and a third focusing on fiction. The most influential one is the Ruby Tuesday group, which has been meeting weekly for over fifteen years. The membership has remained steady for quite a while, with three of the four initial members (including me) still active. These women have become like family: we support and challenge each other and celebrate each other’s successes. For me, a key element is that we always begin with time for writing, usually with a prompt, before going on to workshopping and sharing news.

In terms of poetic style or craft, is there a big question you are trying to find an answer for?

“How to convey the magic?” I constantly struggle to find the right balance between airiness and grounding, maintaining the weirdness that comes from writing intuitively while working to make the poem accessible. Also, as I noted re the start of a poem, I find it very hard to write well when I have a specific objective in mind, so I would very much like to find a way to be intentional while staying fluid.

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