Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Blair Trewartha

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November 25, 2015 -

We're thrilled to introduce our December 2015 writer-in-residence, Blair Trewartha! Blair is the author of the poetry collection Easy Fix (Palimpsest Press), explores the idea of feeling trapped and dissatisfied, and how daydreams of better days can themselves become prison-like. The collection asks readers to examine their own fantasies and what they might say about us. It's a debut that is making waves after Blair's two acclaimed chapbooks put him on the radar of poetry lovers.

We are speaking to Blair as part of our Poets in Profile series in order to introduce him to our readers.

Blair tells us the importance of aunts with good taste, why stress can sometimes be a good thing and the best and worst things about being a poet.

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Blair Trewartha:

I’ve been writing poetry since I was fifteen years old, but I’m not sure how I originally got started. I have several notebooks filled with poems and ramblings from high school when I wrote on a daily basis, but I can’t remember why I got started or what goal I had in mind. It was more of a compulsion than an intentional ambition. In terms of making publishing the goal, I do remember one experience that gave me the confidence to attempt getting some of my work into print. Near the end of high school about 12-13 years ago, I was encouraged by my aunt Sandi Plewis, (an excellent fiction writer, FYI), to submit a series of poems to an Anthology/Poetry Contest in the Niagara area called The Saving Bannister. I didn’t really expect much, so I was both thrilled and shocked when I received an acceptance letter for several poems that I had submitted. In the grand scheme of things, it was a small victory and not a large press, but for an insecure high school writer scribbling in notebooks every day, it was a big confidence boost. Ever since then, publishing what I write has always been the end goal even if it’s not why I write.

OB:

What is the first poem you remember being affected by?

BT:

It must have been something by Alden Nowlan, whom I read as much as I could when I was young. I’d say “Broadcaster’s Poem” or “And He Wept Aloud, So the Egyptians Heard It.” The first poem affected me simply for the fervent flow of his narrative. The later poem was meaningful to me because of its context and theme, something relatable to me in a childhood growing up in a century old farmhouse (yes, they’re always filled with flies) with a family of five surviving on a low-income in a rural area.

OB:

What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?

BT:

I’ll offer up two contemporary poems. I’d say “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong” by Ocean Vuong, or “Fire” by Matthew Dickman. The first time I read both of those poems I was instantly struck by what they were doing with language; they floored me and made me want to write until I could create something even half as good. Five or so years ago, I probably would have said the same thing about a Babstock or Dodds poem.

OB:

What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?

BT:

Stress. I never imagined that the more stressed and unhappy I am with my current job, living conditions, or personal life, the more in love with poetry and writing I become. It’s nothing new, really: the miserable, brooding poet. It’s cliché. I just never thought it would apply to me. I love my life and I’m generally a happy person most of the time, but I don’t write from that place. I admire anyone who can write a happy poem, but for me, it wouldn’t work.

OB:

What do you do with a poem that just isn't working?

BT:

This is going to echo what’s already been said in past interviews, but I harvest it for lines, cut out anything salvageable and delete the rest. I often have a word doc saved in my files that is just a giant list of harvested lines from poems that were for the most part, crap. Sometimes I come back and pluck one of those lines and use it in a new poem if it fits. I’ve even written entire poems with nothing but harvested lines, but it’s rare that they all fit together into a cohesive piece.

Of course, sometimes a poem just needs more time, or rather I do. I need to wait a few weeks or months until I no longer care about it, and then take a stab at it again. Once I’ve left that poem unread and untouched for that long, I’ll often know as soon as I read it again whether it’s worth saving or not.

OB:

What was the last book of poetry you read that really knocked your socks off?

BT:

Ben Ladouceur’s Otter, published this year by Coach House, and Michael Prior’s chapbook Swan Dive by Frog Hollow Press. I was blown away not just by the beauty of their lines, but also how polished each poet was, especially considering it was their debut book/chapbook and they are both emerging poets, so to speak.

OB:

What is the best thing about being a poet…and what is the worst?

BT:

The best thing about being a poet is probably the energy in the community and the massive output of content. I can’t even keep up with all the latest titles, the new debuts by talented emerging writers, or the third or fourth book from the more established poets. There are small and large publishing houses, micro presses independently producing chapbooks on a sometimes monthly basis, almost nightly reading events (at least in Toronto), and lit magazines and other projects constantly popping up, making space and providing platforms to poets and their work. Does that mean all of it is quality? No, certainly not, and there has been a lot of intelligent discussion around the desire for more selective and prudent publishing in the CanPo scene. However, it is undeniably inspiring and encouraging to never be lacking new material to read. Ironically, that can also be the greatest drawback to being a poet. With so much material and so many people publishing great work, it can be hard to find space for yourself on the stage.


Blair Trewartha’s debut collection of poetry Easy Fix, was published by Palimpsest Press in 2014. He is also the author of two chapbooks: Break In (Cactus Press, 2010) and Porcupine Burning (Baseline Press, 2012). He currently lives in Toronto where he works as a College English instructor.

Check out all the Poets in Profile interviews in our archives.

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