An Interview with Susan J. Atkinson

Susan J. Atkinson’s poems have won a number of awards, most recently contest winner in North Grenville’s 2022 Poetry Contest, first prize in the 2019 National Capital Writers Contest and Notable Mention in The New Quarterly’s 2020 Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse. She has new work in Grain Magazine and The Queen’s Quarterly. Her first full-length collection, The Marta Poems was published by Silver Bow Publishing in 2020 and her chapbook The Birthday Party, The Mariachi Player and The Tourist was released in 2021 by Catkin Press.

You can read her poem even today 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? 

The poem, ‘even today,’ was inspired by feelings connected to the end of a marriage. The hope was for the poem to convey those desolate feelings of not being able to muster energy or positivity despite the beauty of the day. It was written in concrete form to heighten the beauty or aesthetic on the page as a further layer of how some days are just what they are.

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

I absolutely love the work of contemporary Canadian poets, Deanna Young and Sue Goyette. Often when I’m looking to feel the gorgeousness of a poem, I will go to any of the fine collections written by either poet, and immerse myself in their language, their images, their work. These touchstones, if you will, remind me of how good poetry can be.

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

Honestly, I can’t imagine my life without poetry. My workdays are filled with creativity, between freelancing in the film industry, working as a teacher and writing for children, I am constantly inspired by the world around me. Photography is also a creative outlet for me but even with this poetry always sneaks in, even if it’s only a line here and there. Poetry is at my core, it is my heart song.  

How do you revise your work? 

I always begin by handwriting my work, the first revision happens when transcribing from journal to computer. The next step is to print out the page to see how it looks and then reading it for pace and line breaks. I usually share these early drafts with either one or both of the critique groups I belong to and then I make some tweaks. Sometimes a poem appears in its finished form and takes very little revision, these are usually my favourite poems!

What are you working on now? 

I am currently working on my second full-length manuscript, tentatively entitled ‘all things small.’ It is a collection of love, loss (in all its forms) and all the small things in between. I am also in the very beginning stages, the percolating stage, for what maybe a hybrid of prose and poetry – stay tuned.

How or where or with what does a poem begin? 

Poems, for me, can begin with anything but usually they are borne out of my day to day reality, from something I hear or see and go from there.

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

Everything in my daily round connects me to poetry. I wake up thinking about poetry. I go to bed thinking about poetry – I think everything I experience in a day can be crystalized into the question “could this become a poem?”

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? 

At the moment I am trying to live the advice of poet, editor, publisher, Amanda Earl. Her advice, in one of her recent blog posts, is to read, read, read so I am currently reading as much as I possibly can! I am also spending a lot of time outside and listening to the beauty of nature.

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

I am fortunate to belong to two writing groups, both of which are invaluable to my growth as a writer. The Ruby Tuesdays is a collective of amazing women, all of whom are exceptionally talented, thoughtful and incredibly insightful poets. The group meets once a week and many of my recent poems have been inspired by prompts and writing exercises created and shared by the group. The second group, The Other Tongues – also a collective of wildly talented poets, meets once a month and is fabulous as a critique group that often helps me take a first draft poem into its next stage.

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

The only answer I constantly look for and the only question I ask is, “could this be a poem?”

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