A member of the League of Canadian Poets, the Writers Union of Canada, and an executive member of the Canadian Authors Association – Toronto Branch, Renée’s poetry has been published in The Windsor Review, The Prairie Journal, the /tƐmz/ review, Lummox, and numerous Canadian anthologies.
You can read her poem table setters in the January 2023 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?
I actually was sitting in my backyard in late August or early September, and it must’ve been late afternoon, and there actually was a shimmering spider’s web! I’m not sure how or why it caught my eye, but it did, and it’s one of those poems where something you observe in the world leads you to a place you hadn’t anticipated. It ended up feeling like a new exploration, which I think is a fantastic way to approach a poem.
Why was the poetic form the best fit for this particular piece of work?
This is an interesting question for me, as I tend to write longer lines. I realized early on as I was working through the poem that shorter lines lent themselves much more readily to the imagistic tone I was setting up. Each line is impressionistic, opening itself to allow the words to resonate, not only with the image, but also for me, with the sounds of the words themselves. And then came the indentation of second lines. I wanted softness in the couplets, interspersed by those one-line stanzas, and you can see that I was intentional with the white space. Everything here needed to breathe.
If you didn’t write poetry, how do you think you might access the same fulfillments that poetry offers in your life?
I’ve played piano all my life, and although I don’t play as much as I used to (there’s never enough time!), music has always been a way for me to express myself.
How do you revise your work?
I like to let things incubate. Depending on the piece, that might be a few days to a few weeks, or perhaps longer. I find that if I work too much on a piece, something about it, it’s energy or its life starts to die under my fingers. I trust that whatever subconscious processing that’s going on in the back of my head will do its work when I return to the poem. With that said, however, I think that revision takes conscious work. You have to pay attention to the sounds, the rhythms, the language in your poem. Is it working? Does it resonate?
What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m working on a new collection of poems. I’m in the beginning stages, there’s reading, researching, some writing. Incubating. Learning. It’s exciting to see where this project will go!
How or where or with what does a poem begin?
I think a poem can begin anywhere. For instance, “table setters” began with a spider’s web in the grass, but it might equally have begun with a memory, or by watching a movie, or a conversation, in short, anything. I like to begin with something, whether that’s an overheard word, an image, or a line from someone else’s poem. Sometimes I have a theme I’m working on and that helps to provide a bit of a container. For instance, let’s say I want to write a bunch of poems about stars. That theme would then operate somewhere in my consciousness as I read more about stars. Reading helps to provide some input, but I find I can’t go in to a poem with an overt idea. For example, I can’t just say, “Today, I’m going to write about Arcturus and what I felt when I saw it on Tuesday night while eating a tuna sandwich” or something to that effect. I don’t know how other people do that, though I know it works for some folks. For me, setting things up with a too-specific goal, encapsulated within a well-defined and articulated idea closes me off to writing and prevents anything interesting from coming to the surface.
Are there other art forms that inspire or inform your poetry?
Music. I don’t think my poetry would be anything at all without music.
How do you make space for poetry in your daily routine?
Writing or revising is something I do every morning, right after some yoga. I don’t feel balanced if I don’t start with yoga followed by poetry. And poetry happens every day alongside three cups of espresso coffee!
What are you reading or watching or listening to lately that intrigues or inspires you?
I’ve just finished reading Ocean Vuong’s, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, which is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a long time, and is one I’ve added to the very small list of books I’m willing to re-read. Just a stunning masterpiece. In terms of poetry, I recently read Diane Seuss’ Four-Legged Girl and I’m really struck by her poem titles, and her use of language. Her poetry takes me out of my comfort zone, and it’s an exciting and intriguing place to enter into!
Have you ever received advice (or has there been something you’ve learned on your own) about writing or revising poems that has made you a better poet? What was it?
I’ve always instinctively read my poems out loud during the revision process. I think it’s because of my musical training – I need to hear it, as well as see the words on the page. It’s something Ellen Bass emphasized recently in her Living Room Series, too. I’ve never understood why other poets I’ve known don’t do that, and to hear Ellen Bass reiterate that felt akin to saying, “See? I told you so!”
Do you belong to a writer’s group? If not, where do you find poetry community and feedback?
I used to be part of a monthly poetry group, but unfortunately that’s since disbanded. Currently, I’m part of a group I met through the Canadian Authors Association-Toronto branch, but would love also to be part of a dedicated poetry group again, as I think there’s so much to be gained from community and feedback. Feel free to adopt me!
In terms of poetic style or craft, is there a big question you are trying to find an answer for?
How can I challenge myself? How can I go beyond the parameters within which I feel truly comfortable? How can I grow as an artist? That’s three questions, for a start.