Kim Fahner lives and writes in Sudbury, Ontario. Her latest book of poems is Emptying the Ocean (Frontenac House, 2022), and her first novel, The Donoghue Girl, will be published by Latitude 46 Publishing in 2024. Kim is the Ontario Representative for The Writers’ Union of Canada, a member of the League of Canadian Poets, and a supporting member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada. She may be reached via her website at www.kimfahner.com
You can read her poem Once 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 took an online poetry writing class that focused on the topic of memoir in the fall of 2022, led by Victoria poet Yvonne Blomer. I’ve taken a few of Yvonne’s online poetry writing classes, and one in-person last August at MISSA on Vancouver Island, mostly because she’s amazing at teaching poetic form and I wanted to explore and expand my repertoire of form. She shared Vijay Seshadri’s poem, Memoir with the class and challenged us to echo its form by writing a poem that would draw on our own life experiences.
I used Seshadri’s second and third lines as inspiration to start my poem, Once, and really experimented with line length and line breaks in a way I hadn’t before. Seshadri uses a bit of anaphora with the word “once” in his poem, so I wanted to use that word to create an homage to his poetic structure. That repeated word then became the title of my poem.
My poem, Once, is about loss and grief, but also about how having experienced such intense loss has taught me some of the greatest lessons in my life. Nothing is permanent and everything is temporary, even though we might try to delude ourselves into believing it is otherwise true. Time is fleeting. Attachment only ever ultimately causes a personal pain and so acceptance of the moment—and of learning how to live mindfully in the moment—is part of what I was trying to work through when I wrote this particular poem. I rooted it in the landscape I so love to walk through, referencing a hike I took in late October 2021 out in French River Provincial Park and down to Recollet Falls, which is such a beautiful spot.
Why was the poetic form the best fit for this particular piece of work?
This piece could only have been written as a poem, with rough edges and intense emotion. It’s a poem that makes me feel very honest and very vulnerable at the same time. Speaking truthfully isn’t always comfortable, but I find it necessary because I’ve never been someone who can lie. I value honesty too much.
Sometimes you experience something so emotionally painful that it upends your life, when trust is completely and shockingly shattered, and I experienced one of those events in my life in early 2022. I wanted to see how that sense of confusion and pain could play out in a poetic form, and I wanted to convey the sense that—after so many big losses in a person’s life—another massive one could feel like a tsunami.
How do you make sense of a life that has a string of bereavements, of varying origins, that seem to be layered one upon another without reprieve? That’s the question I was trying to answer with this poem. I don’t think it’s meant to have an ‘answer,’ though. Like life, some things will always be raw and open wounds for a while, and closure is a myth that popular culture has dreamed up. Once isn’t meant to have an end or certainty, either, and I’m hoping that’s conveyed through its stylings.
Do you have a collection of poetry or even a single poem that acts as a touchstone?
My favourite poem of all time is Seamus Heaney’s Postscript. I love the way it reminds me of the west coast of County Clare, and the way the road runs along the flaggy shore. I also really love the idea of the heart being blown wide open. The other poem that is a touchstone for me is Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese because it makes me feel connected even when I’m on my own. It resonates because I love being outside, and I love the way in which the natural world can bring me great comfort and peace.
If you didn’t write poetry, how do you think you might access the same fulfilments that poetry offers in your life?
I’ve been exploring using my hands more, in creating visual art, over the last year, with the help of my friend, Trish Stenabaugh. She’s a local artist here in Sudbury, and I’ve been exploring free form embroidery with her in her studio. I also love taking photographs and I sing. I think, if I didn’t write poems, the creativity would just find another way ‘out’ of my body and into some alternate medium of creative artwork. That’s how it seems to work for me, in any case…
How do you revise your work?
I let it sit for a bit, a week or two, or more, depending on how it feels to me. I guess it’s an intuitive process, at first, but also I know that things need to ‘settle’ inside the draft of a poem and then I need to question and analyze it a bit from a less intimate place, to bring a bit more distance and objectivity to the revision process. Often, that means trusting that the poem needs to sit before I revise, so that I’m less attached to it emotionally. Then, it’s a matter of me taking time with the poem and getting into the mechanics of it, analyzing the tiny pieces that carry great weight inside a poem—the placement of punctuation, for example, or changing words and phrasing and line length. Rushing this process would be ridiculous.
What are you working on now?
I’m writing poems about bees, both in an environmentally-aware way, as well as in a mythopoetic way. It’s a collection I didn’t think I could put together because I wondered if my interest, my first spark of curiosity when I began with my first few bee poems, would hold up as an idea for a whole book. I thought, perhaps, they would just make up a section inside a poetry book manuscript, but they’re proving to me that they have a lot more to say than I initially thought. Again, it was me choosing not to rush through the creative process, to let it all have some space and time, and not rushing to get them out into the world. The bees in my poems have taught me to be more patient, trusting, and have helped me to surrender to that bigger creative process. I’m also working on my next novel, and a new play about isolation in the pandemic.
How or where or with what does a poem begin?
I find it begins with a phrase or first line. Usually, one just slides into my head. I’ll hear it somehow, or I’ll see the words in my mind’s eye. If I don’t jot the words down, they disappear. If I see something wonderful or interesting, I react physically—stopping or saying ‘oh!’ out loud—whether I’m with people or not. I suppose it’s a poet practice, to be extremely mindful of the world around me, to be attuned to the tiny things that are almost asking to be noted and written down on a page. A lot of people miss the tiny things in their rushing to move through a day, but that’s where I think the beauty, poetry, and wisdom is found.
Are there other art forms that inspire or inform your poetry?
Visual art, theatre, and music also inform my poetry. I love writing ekphrastic poetry, so that’s been a love of mine for more than two decades. Whenever I’m in Ottawa, I make a pilgrimage to the National Gallery of Canada to experience Janet Cardiff’s Forty-Part Motet. It inspired me to write a whole suite of poems in my last book, These Wings. So, my ekphrasis isn’t limited to visual art, and I have a sense that I’ll likely explore ekphrasis more, in terms of music and theatre, but I’m not quite sure where it’s all headed. It’s part of that more elusive creative process that I’ve yet to completely sort out in my head.
How do you make space for poetry in your daily life?
Poetry is my life in that it’s the way I see the world. For me, poetry is breath, meditation, and prayer. It’s my language. When I’m with other writers and artists, that’s when I feel most myself and able to be free because other creative friends also speak in metaphor. As a teacher, I sometimes worry that my tendency to speak in metaphor might be confusing, but I can’t stop experiencing the world through that poetic lens, so I think of myself as a writer who teaches, and not a teacher who writes. I think that brings a different experience to my students in the classroom. At least, I certainly hope it does, but I also always check to see if they understand what I’m saying to be sure I’m clear.
What are you reading or watching or listening to lately that intrigues or inspires you?
I’ve been reading a lot about the creative process lately. A friend recommended Eve Rodsky’s book, Find Your Unicorn Space. It’s about learning to foster your creativity, to give it the space in the day that it needs to grow and flourish. I think I do this fairly well already, but balancing the demands of teaching high school English for my day job, and carving out time to work on my writing projects, is something I always need to be mindful of as a writer. I’m also reading Renee Hartlieb’s Writing Your Way: A 40-Day Path of Self-Discovery. It’s a great book that takes you through a journaling process, again just asking you to delve into your creative side on a day-by-day basis through writing. I’m finding both are fascinating books, in how they’re making me look at the way I spend my time in my day, in how I include pockets of time to be writing or reading.
Have you ever received advice (or has there been something that you’ve learned on your own) about writing or revising poems that has made you a better poet? What was it?
Not to be afraid to edit things out, or just to realize that a poem can become much stronger in style and structure if it’s given proper editorial attention. I think, as an emerging (and younger) poet, I was less open to receiving constructive feedback, but now I know that it’s all given in the spirit of making me a stronger poet.
I’ve been really lucky and blessed to have worked with great poetry mentors and editors over the last decade or so, including Ken Babstock, John Glenday, Jen Hadfield, Susan Rich, Yvonne Blomer, Ariel Gordon, Monica Kidd, and Micheline-Maylor Kovitz. Every single one of those people has taught me something new about how to view a poem, and how to make my poems stronger through revision. I’ve become a better editor of poetry—my own and other people’s poems, as well, because of the people who have taught me through their generous critiques of my poetry.
Do you belong to a writers’ group? If not, where do you find poetry community and feedback?
I’m a member of The Electronic Garret, a group of Canadian women poets who share their work online. Each April, we write a poem a day and give one another feedback. It’s a creative community of like-minded poets and I find it has become an important part of my life even beyond National Poetry Month. I’ve made some really good friends through the Garret, and I’m thankful for the sense of community that I’ve found with these women who love poetry so deeply. It’s nice to find a place full of kindred spirits, and it was the Garret poets who kept me company through the depths of pandemic lockdown. I’m forever grateful to them all for that…
In terms of poetic style or craft, is there a big question you are trying to find an answer for?
I used to press against learning poetic forms, like a stubborn child, but now I find it’s completely seductive. I want to explore a variety of forms and try to learn them. As I’ve dabbled in poetic forms I hadn’t experienced before, especially over the last year, my work as a poet has changed. It’s become different in how it works on the page structurally. It’s wilder and more raw—less careful and structured. My voice is braver, louder, and less nervous. That feels really lovely to me, to be able to sink into myself through my poetry and savour my evolution into a more confident poet and woman.