Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Karen Shenfeld

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Karen

November 25, 2009 -

Open Book: Toronto:

What was your first publication and where was it published?

Karen Shenfeld:

My first published piece appeared in 1966, in a North York Teachers’ Newsletter. It was an enthusiastic account of Lilla Stirling’s visit to my Grade 5 class the previous year. Stirling is the author (I want to write “authoress”) of The Pipe Organ in the Parlour, a children’s book that I had read and adored.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

KS:

The experience took place in the privacy of my study. I reread the poems of E. Pauline Johnson and found quite a few of them deeply moving, especially her quiet nature poems that explore unrequited love. I was then inspired to write a poem that begins with the line, “I go canoeing with Pauline Johnson.”

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

KS:

I’d like to give a newcomer to Canada a case of books — fiction, non-fiction, and poetry — but, okay, I’ll play by the rules of the game. The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy (1947), A Jest of God by Margaret Laurence (1966) and Lives of the Saints by Nino Ricci (1990).

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

KS:

I’m a closet Victorian with a mild case of ADHD. In the summertime, I like writing on my back deck, overlooking my garden. I can glance up from the page (I write poetry on lined graph paper) to observe the squirrels and birds, or jump up from the table to dig out a weed or two. I love writing while I’m on the road: gazing out at the sea, perhaps, from a pelapa in Yelapa.

OBT:

William Faulkner was once asked what book he wished he had written; he chose Moby-Dick (with Winnie the Pooh as a close second). Is there a book that you wish you had written?

KS:

At Play in the Fields of the Lord by Peter Matthiessen.

OBT:

Is there a book that you think you should have read by now but haven’t?

KS:

I strolled into College Street’s wonderful indie used bookshop, Balfour Books, the other day with the horses of the Apocalypse pounding at my heels. I realized just how many great books have been written that I will never live long enough to read (especially because I am an achingly slow reader). I feel guilty for not having yet read Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

KS:

Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham and the Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke.

OBT:

Do you have a specific readership in mind when you write?

KS:

No. That said, I’m in sympathy with the view that the reader’s own experience and worldview affects her appreciation and interpretation of any text. My poetry is thus likely best appreciated by another fifty-something, non-reformed hippie, Toronto Jewess with a taste for lyric verse, biblical imagery and off-the-beaten-track travel.

OBT:

What are you working on right now?

KS:

I am polishing the title poem of the manuscript for my third book, Billie Holiday Sings My Yiddishe Momme (yes, she really did).

OBT:

Do you have any advice for writers who are trying to get published?

KS:

I tell young poets that, if they wish to be published, they will likely have to be tenacious. I might give them an obvious, practical tip: such as, read a journal to which they would like to submit their work before sending it off. Last, I tell them, “schmooze or you will lose” (while striving not to be insufferably self-promoting).

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