Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Great Canadian Writer's Craft Interview: Margaret Christakos

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Margaret Chrisakos

This spring, Toronto high-school students from two Writer's Craft classes conducted interviews with some of Canada's finest poets. The interviews will be posted on The Great Canadian Writer's Craft page on Open Book in June and July 2011.

Samantha Seon:

Hello! I just wanted to thank you before you read any further for reading at least this far! I admire your work and am very interested in what you have to say on these certain topics. Alright, let's get to it!

People say that change is good; I can’t say that I fully agree, because it scared me a little, to be honest. But I find that large changes affect my writing in many subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) ways. They can be beneficial or detrimental and sometimes a bit of both. I read in an interview that you have children; looking back on your writing before having kids, what would you say is the most obvious change in your writing, if there is one?

Margaret Christakos:

I’ve had children for almost 18 years, so it’s — to be perfectly honest — a little difficult to remember my writing life before they were part of my life. I do know I’ve gone through many adjustments as they grow up and present different routines and needs. Mainly the last couple of years I’ve found it much harder to write fiction; I just can’t find the sustained time to do so. So I’m working that out.

SS:

At this point in my writing career (that is to say, the very beginning), I enjoy writing in prose and stream of consciousness. I find stream of consciousness a powerful structure and enjoy reading it. While reading the poem “What Stirs,” I was happily reminded of stream of consciousness writing. “What Stirs” seems to flow, albeit very quickly, and has a sense of agitation that somehow calms, like a lullaby put to rock music. What is your favorite form to write in? What form do you write in to relax, or just to write if you’re having an off day?

MC:

I don’t think of the title poem “What Stirs” as stream of consciousness. I consider it narrative and the compositional process is one of remaining very focused on moving through various interrelated terrains desiring a complex braid of narrative matter…not to end up wherever I end up, which has often felt to me more like the hallmark of stream of consciousness.

I don’t have any favourite form of writing; I enjoy discovering new forms as I go.

I use journal writing to gather and express various confusions, profusions, of thought and feeling. I don’t do that very much at the moment; I’m hoping to get more engaged in journal writing again. I think Facebook has cut into that inclination.

SS:

I found the epigraph in Sooner to be very intriguing. Here is a little reminder, just in case you blank: “And if this is the ending you know how you got here” It is beautiful and haunting. What inspired these words? (Side note: I noticed you started that sentence with “And”… This is my favorite word to start sentences with, but I’m always getting in trouble for it in English class… Oh well!)

MC:

I like the way writing can import a reader right into the present moment of its reading, and give the reader a reflective moment about the physical space and head space he or she is inhabiting. That’s what I think that line does. It also offers the chance to think about beginnings and endings and how the way we interpret our lives is often to impose an essentially arbitrary order on memories.

SS:

I find that there are certain words I am drawn to while writing. I love to use things like glint, snarl, flutter, and breathe, to name a few. While reading What Stirs, I noticed (especially in the chapter “Wind I Am Lonely”) the word “opal” cropped up quite often. You used it to describe milk at one point, which also came up frequently. Is there a reason these words appear more than once?

MC:

I’m using the word the way you might find rhyming or repeated words used in more closed-form poetry. The repetition creates a shape in the mouth that we start to roll around on the tongue as if we know it, as if we own it. It’s a different kind of reading to have certain material in a poem you already “know.” of course, we already “know” the vast majority of the words encountered in any poem, but this repetition makes that knowing more conscious. Repeating the word at different moments across the whole book’s structure extends that memory-making process, and I like that.

SS:

I really enjoyed reading your work. I find it absolutely enchanting, I couldn’t put it down (I feel compelled to tell you that my mom found it a little unsettling how quickly I read Sooner…). You present the reader with such vivid imagery, while at the same time seeming to with hold certain details so we can discover the poem for ourselves. Living in the beaches of Toronto, the words in What Stirs leapt out in pictures from my own memory. How have the different places you’ve lived affected your writing? If they haven’t, what place in the world do you think could inspire you?

MC:

Thanks a lot for your expressions of pleasure at my work. That means a lot to me.

I very much write in relation to the place and space I am in. There’s a kind of visual art called site-specific art; that’s close to my practice when it comes to writing.

I am also very, very inspired when in a quiet environment, where my hearing can open up and reach to identify all the sounds and voices of presences in my environment. That’s my favourite circumstance, to be in a quiet environment for a long time, where I can cook when I want, sleep when I want, write unbroken for days. But, this is a total fantasy, as my life simply does not work this way!

SS:

Does having children of your own give you any desire to delve into writing for children? If not, why not?

MC:

I’ve tried writing a few children’s stories and I find make them too complex. I like the idea of collaborating with an illustrator though.

SS:

I am interested in getting work published for myself, but have to confess that I am woefully ignorant of the process. What was your first experience with getting published like?

MC:

Getting published is a lot of fun. These days people can put their work up for a public almost immediately using social media, or making zines and taking part in publishing collectives. I think my first work was published in literary journals, at a time when it was still purely by snail mail. I found the first occasion of having my work accepted by editors I did not know who were on the other side of the country amazing!

SS:

Reading your work was a pleasure! Thank you again for taking the time to read my questions, and I await your answers in high anticipation!

Sincerely yours,
Samantha

MC:

Thanks Samantha. If you have any more questions, please feel free to send them to me.

Margaret


Margaret Christakos is a poet, fiction writer and creative writing educator in Toronto. She has also worked as a publisher, editor and production coordinator. She has published eight collections of poetry since 1989, and a novel. Her work has been acknowledged with several award nominations for the Ontario Trillium Award and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award twice, and wins of the Bliss Carman Poetry Award and the ReLit Award for Poetry. She served as Canada Council Writer in Residence at the University of Windsor and since 2005 has taught poetry and creative writing and Influency: A Toronto Poetry Salon at U of T School of Continuing Studies. Despite this patchy run of “success” she is impoverished, debt-ridden and irrationally committed to innovative poetry for life. Her most recent book of poetry is Welling (2010, Your Scrivener Press, a Globe 100 Book). She is seeking some form of patronage to help produce www.influencysalon.ca, an online poetics magazine. She is the parent of three teenagers and lives in Toronto.

Samantha Seon (who much prefers Sam, feeling that the former sounds like a stuffy old spinster) has had a story published in The Best Short Stories on the Shelf 2010 and likes to remind people of this on bad hair days. Her dad and sister find most of her writing creepy, but she loves them anyway and enjoys life with them and her mom and her gorgeous friends in the sunny little town of Toronto, Ontario. She has found that she is greatly inspired by her best friend’s laugh, her neighbour’s maple tree, when the sky goes pink during thunder storms and the smell of chlorine. She has been called a firecracker, but thinks that nervous little ball of static is better suited. She hopes that you’ve enjoyed the book that precedes this bio, and if you haven’t that you won’t tell anyone.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

The Great Canadian Writer's Craft

Each year, students from Malvern Collegiate Institute's Writer’s Craft class interview Canadian poets as part of a class project. The students study Canadian poetry under the collaborative tutelage of teacher John Ouzas and poet a.rawlings. We are delighted to feature the interviews on Open Book.

Go to The Great Canadian Writer's Craft’s Author Page