Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Sachiko Murakami

Share |

December 1, 2012 - Sachiko Murakami is Open Book: Toronto's December 2012 Writer in Residence.

Open Book:

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

Sachiko Murakami:

I don’t think I would become a poet if I hadn’t had a lot of support and encouragement. My self-esteem was cripplingly low for so many years, and I could barely get out of bed without a lot of cheerleaders. I was dragged to meet Esta Spalding when she came by the Chapters I worked at as a one-day Writer-in-Residence, and I sat and shook and wept with fear as she read my poems. She told me to enroll in a poetry workshop, and I did. Then the instructor of that workshop, Shannon Stewart, encouraged me to pursue graduate work in creative writing, and I did. Then at Concordia, I got to work on my master’s thesis, which became my first book. It was there that I discovered that writing takes place in community. All my friends were poets and academics, and I started talking about writing and writers and attending readings and making chapbooks and subscribing to journals... and I’ve continued to participate in the writing life as fully as I can. So I went from a terrified girl secretly writing poems to Poetry Editor for Insomniac Press, former co-host of a fantastic reading series, author of two books, sometime creative writing instructor… all because someone pushed me into one conversation with one person. I think poets tend to be inward people, but as far as I can tell, this writing thing happens when I am connected to my writing community.
 

OB:

What is the first poem you remember being affected by?
 

SM:

Hate to be a cliché, but Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy.” In grade 11, my English teacher, Cynthia Weldon, let me write a collection of poems instead of a final paper for a project. Things weren’t going well at home, and I had a lot of negative feelings I wasn’t coping with well. I found in Plath a path through pain, and I tried it myself. I still think the ability to witness one’s own pain — to observe it, work with it, use it as the material for art — can be a transformative experience.
 

OB:

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

SM:

That’s a tough question. When a poem moves or inspires or excites or troubles me, I don’t usually wish its glory for myself.
 
Having said that, I’d like to have the mind that could have written Tender Buttons.
 
 

OB:

What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?
 

SM:

Funny you should ask. I’ve been having a lot of problems with inspiration lately, and have been wondering about its source — where does that spark come from? What’s dampening my mind’s flint that the world seems such a dull and uninspiring place? Why am I walking with my head down, barely present?
 
I’m currently conducting an experiment to address this problem: I am crowdsourcing inspiration. For my current project of poems (about airports), GET ME OUT OF HERE, I am relying on submissions of observations made in airports made by other people. I have committed to writing poems in response to the first 100 submissions, so each poem will arise from enforced inspiration.
 
See http://getmeoutofhere-poems.tu... for more details.
 

OB:

What do you do when a poem is not working?
 

SM:

I give it a time out. I leave it alone and let us both cool down — and then return to it. I try to look at it as though I didn’t write it, so I feel less emotionally invested in it. The best way, though, is to send it off to a friend for perspective. (I wrote about this process in a recent essay, “Renovate, Writer!” in the latest issue of Descant.)
 

OB:

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

SM:

Gillian Savigny’s Notebook M. It was my first acquisition as Poetry Editor for Insomniac Press. She sent it to me via email, and within an hour I wrote back asking her if she wanted to work together on it. It’s a book that works with Darwin — his journals, his life, his ideas — and it is incredibly accomplished and smart and engrossing. I feel very lucky to have worked on it.
 

OB:

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

SM:

Worst thing: getting stuck.
 
Writing for me is a delicate balance between getting struck by something the world and sitting quietly and working with what smacked me. There are some days when it feels like the world is slapping me sideways every few minutes, and I run back home to work with that one line, that one word, image, thought — to blow on the spark. Then, there are some days — many days — when I walk around with my head down, worrying, moping, obsessively playing Bejeweled. I fret about not writing, and the more I fret, the farther I get from writing.
 
Best thing: writing.
 
Being in the creation state — that deep place of concentration, of synthesis and mental leaping and the happy wrestle with language — is a rare privilege. My most productive writing days happen when I am fed, and rested, and in harmony with my friends and family, and caffeinated, and the dog has been walked, and the house is empty, and clean, and silent. Those are some hefty requirements, and I am very lucky to have the time, space, energy, and support to make my writing possible.