An Interview with Małgosia Halliop

Małgosia Halliop immigrated to Canada from Poland as a child, and has lived in Toronto for close to thirty years. In the past decade, she has been a writer, editor, community organizer, visual artist, wildlife tracker, and nature educator. For some years she also homeschooled her two kids. She has had poems published in Prairie FireEventLiterary MamaParentheses Journal, and elsewhere.

You can read In Late August in the October 2022 issue of Pinhole Poetry.

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? 

This poem came out of a online workshop with Marie Howe in August 2021. We were looking at a poem by Nâzim Hikmet called ‘Things I Didn’t Know I Loved,’ which takes place on a train and in which the speaker digresses and disagrees with himself and circles back. A prompt emerged out of that poem that was about allowing things into a poem, letting the poem sprawl a little and pull things in and change time frames and maybe disagree with itself. I think I’ve sometimes been too obsessed with concision, and that prompt gave me permission to be more expansive. Perhaps I should have subtitled my poem ‘After Nâzim Hikmet.’ Also, the phrase “I can’t help it,” which I repeat several times toward the end of ‘In Late August’ echoes a line from one of my favourite poems by Ada Limón, ‘The Last Thing.’ And then there’s the quote from Casablanca, a movie I will never tire of rewatching! And as I write this, I also want to add how wonderful it’s been, because of the pandemic, to take online workshops with poets I would likely never have studied with in person, like Marie Howe—that accessibility is the flip side of all the Zoom exhaustion!

If you didnt write poetry, how do you think you might access the same fulfillments that poetry offers in your life? 

For a few years a friend and I sent each other art prompts—words or themes—to make tiny pieces of art (drawing, painting, collage). That satisfied some kind of similar urge. 

How do you revise your work? 

I’m very much still learning how to revise well. Some of my first published poems emerged in an almost finished form. Now I do a lot more rewriting and revising. I don’t know if a poem is ever done (who was it that said “A poem is never done, only abandoned”?). I send out poems periodically, and if they don’t get accepted, I might edit them some more (or a lot more) before I send them out again. It depends on how much patience I have. I have some poems I’ve been tinkering with for a few years that still don’t seem right. It really varies.  Now I look to make the language lusher, find more sonar echoes, make the throughlines clearer, the images more vivid. I look at the opening and closing. I look to the final lines and make sure I’m not summing up too neatly. I read out loud and make sure I don’t stumble, that it’s possible to say all the sounds together without tripping. Sometimes I voice record on my phone and then change a word or two based on how that sounds to me. Lately I’ve been experimenting with the visual aspect for the first time—changing the spacing on the page, creating gaps to give more room for the reader to breathe. I have been open to feedback when an editor asks about changing something. I’m also okay saying no if I don’t agree. 

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

My writing practice is all over the place right now. It stops and starts. For a few years I had a daily writing practice with a small group of writers by email. We would send each other daily word prompts, each responsible for choosing words for a week at a time. That was a great period for generating writing. I loved where the word prompts led me. If I missed a day, I would try to include two or three in one piece. Having that daily practice kept my brain in the right mode for poetry.

Right now, I journal and write notes, but poems come more intermittently. I need some aspect of immersion to spark my own writing. If I’m reading a lot of poetry, that helps. I also join poetry workshops when I can spare the time and money. Those always give me a lot of inspiration and craft tools and practice. Again, it’s an immersion thing. 

There’s a lot of advice out there to use small snippets of time for creative work. I admit, I find it hard to move between different parts of my brain for brief periods. If I’m in a logical-brain mode, doing work that is more about strategy or accuracy, it’s hard for me to write poems. If I’m carrying a lot of mental load for my family and my brain is full of lists and calendars, it’s hard to write. Poems come from a more open brain, a looser mode of perception. It feels like opening the top of my head and catching lines and images that are floating in the air and then following their trail. This requires a certain amount of openness, mental space, and time—not always easy to find in daily life. 

Why is the poetic form the best fit for your writing? 

I started writing poems in a moment when I was tired of explaining things. I had been writing prose essays, blog posts, and long emails for years. I had been trying to explain myself to various people, and felt done with that. I took to poems because they are what they are—enigmatic, allusive, subversive, defying summary. Not linear; not logical. I also love the challenge of compression—everything in a poem counts. Every letter, every punctuation mark, every space. The intuitive part of my brain loves catching the images and lines, the problem-solving part of my brain loves the craft aspect of turning those fragments into a poem: syntax, line breaks, diction, sound, metaphor. All of it is endlessly fascinating.

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