An Interview with Nancy Huggett

Nancy Huggett is a settler-descendant who lives, writes, and caregives in Ottawa on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg people. Thanks to Firefly Creative, Merritt Writers, and not the rodeo poets, she has work out/ forthcoming in Citron ReviewFive Minute LitIntimaLiterary MamaOne ArtPrairie Fire, (RE) An Ideas Journal, and Waterwheel Review. Facebook: Instagram: @nanhug Twitter: @nancyhuggett

You can read her poem, To Love What Is 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? 

It was the end of winter. It was cold. My husband and I were (are) in the middle of a very long caregiving season with our daughter who had a series of strokes. We have so little time together, so this is a love poem to him. It is about longing for something to be different but learning to love what is there, as it is. 

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

That changes day-to-day, season-to-season. Today, it’s Wendell Berry, I Go Among Trees.

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

I guess prose is not the answer you might be looking for, so I will say meditation and walking along the river/lake/ocean/woods. As I don’t think it is so much fulfillment as being totally present, both when I catch a poem (or it catches me) and then when I work with it (or it works me) to bring it into the world. Meditation and walks in the nature work on me in a similar way.

How do you revise your work? 

With a lot of help from friends. I’m a newer (although older) poet, so I am still learning so much! I am learning what to look for, what to edit & shape to make it into something ready to go out into the world to have adventures. Right now, I am playing with a deck of index cards (taught/shared by Laure-Anne Bosselaar) that have a craft element listed on the front (such as ‘opening,’ ‘verbing,’ ‘form,’ ‘emotional impulse’ etc…) and I am practicing using them to read (to teach myself) and to edit my poems. They hone the focus.  

What are you working on now? 

Short answer: Stuff. Longer answer: what ever appears. Even longer answer: a collection of essays (some written, some not yet), prose poems, and hybrid works that tell the story of our experience of our daughter’s stroke and how it impacted our lives. It is now appearing as a fractured kind of compilation that tells the story slant and in pieces, very much mirroring our experience and her brain injury. Not sure that makes sense…. 

How or where or with what does a poem begin? 

A flash of some sort. A line spoken into my voice recorder as I am walking, something I see, a quick note jotted down. Often a line from my morning pages or from a prompt or a challenge. Or from the tamaracks in our park, that I visit and photograph almost every day. While I’ve watched them for a while, I am only beginning to be able to listen to them. 

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

The shapes and forms in nature. Does that count?

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

I have a writing practice. Every day 7-8am before the house awakes and I have to go into full caregiving mode. I start with 15 minutes of morning pages, then go into a new project or piece or work on a poem. I set my goal at the beginning. (okay, true confession… I write for an hour in an international online zoom co-working group that follows a strict protocol and has a facilitator. It’s goal is productivity (which I find hilarious). Everyone else there is in finance, programming, science… so basically all physicists, programmers, gamers, start-up investors. I am the only writer and I confuse them, which I like! They are a great cheering team, and we basically set our goals at the beginning of the hour, work for an hour (no chat, no talking, just all working), share our outcomes at the end, do a short breathing exercise, stretch, and then move on to the next hour or leave.) Then, I have a clipboard hanging around the house that has some poems in progress on them that I can work on in some of those empty moments of caregiving when I don’t feel like/can’t do a chore, but also don’t have time for anything bigger. So I look at, for example, verbs, or punctuation. Also (true confession again), I sometimes say I have an evening meeting when I don’t feel like watching TV with my family and go down and write. haha. I know my partner probably won’t read this!

What are you reading or watching or listening to lately that intrigues or inspires you? 

There is an essay in Orion’s Tree anthology by poet Katrina Vandenberg called “Cherry Season,” that I just adore. I have been reading and rereading it to understand better how it is constructed, how the form supports the wanderings of the cherry/matriarchal lineage/mothering/loss exploration and themes. Since I don’t understand craft very well, this is a great challenge for me. Since I love the essay so much, it is a delight to read over and over again.

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

To give my poems as much love (hence attention) as I give to the poetry of others. for example, to spend time with my poems exploring the nooks and crannies and synchronicities and craft elements and making them work. To love them. Not egotistically, but as creatures that have been gifted and need some attention to go out into the world. What a challenge and task! 

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

It’s not. The creative nonfiction/lyric essay is. But, I got back into writing at the beginning of the pandemic through poetry. So I find that short form fits much of my life right now, and contributes greatly to my prose. I have little snippets of time, little snippets of thoughts. Distillations. That just seems to fit my life, plus, until recently I never wrote a poem about caregiving or my daughter, so poetry was a respite from that. 

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

There is a poetry group I belong to that started out of a workshop series (was it a workshop? not really, poets talking shop, reading poetry) called Poetry of Resilience. A few of us gathered to share our own poetry two times a month. We’ve been meeting now for more than a year and call ourselves the Not-the-Rodeo poets. I think they are all brilliant poets. There are two Canadians, and the rest are from across the United States. Kind, gracious, insightful, generous, oh so generous poets who have taught me so much. Also SunJune that meets once a month on zoom (hosted by Nickole Brown & Jessica Jacobs), and Hearthfire poetry (James Crews & Danusha Lameris) that gathers twice a month. And Firefly Creative writing that got me back into writing at the beginning of the pandemic. But those are mostly generative. Since I’m a new poet/writer, I never had the chance to join or develop community here where I live (Ottawa), and so many in-person gatherings are not accessible to me because of my caregiving responsibilities, so online makes it very accessible. But I think it is probably time to actually meet a few other writers in Ottawa, besides my husband. 

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

I have this quote (Samuel Beckett) above my desk “To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist.” Basically, my life is a mess and what I want to write about is messy, so I am playing with forms that can accommodate that mess. 

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