Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Kirk Ramdath

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Kirk Ramdath

Find out what inspires, confounds and delights today's Canadian poets by following our Poets in Profile series.

In Love in a Handful of Dust (Frontenac House), Kirk Ramdath crafts both a thank-you poem to his mother, who brought the author from Trinidad to Calgary as a young boy, and a man’s understanding of the meaning of the women in his life.

Kirk Ramdath talks with Open Book about his new book and the poet's life.

Don't forget: Kirk Ramdath, Jim Nason, Ron Charach and Rosemary Griebel will all appear at the Frontenac House Fall launch on September 22, 2011. Click here for Open Book’s event listing for the launch.

Open Book:

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

Kirk Ramdath:

My second reading of Allen Ginsberg's Howl. I had read the poem in a poetry course in university but that didn't make me a poet. Then I graduated and faced my own challenges of trying to find happiness and worthwhile occupation in a world that seems to want to make people conform ultimately to ideals that don't promote democracy, freedom or individual expression. Then I came across The Portable Beat Reader edited by Ann Charters at the Salvation Army and picked up a copy for 50 cents. When I read "Howl" for the second time, armed with some life experience, I found a voice that expressed my voice, a cry that cried my cry. I finally understood the power of what words can do and realized that poetry was something I wanted to devote my life to.

OB:

What is the first poem you remember being affected by?

KR:

Great question! "Strawberries" by Edward Morgan. From the same English course in uni where I first read "Howl".

OB:

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

KR:

I've never envied another poet in the sense of wishing that the work was mine because I have the ultimate respect for individual creative expression. However if "William Shakespeare" and "Kirk Ramdath" had the same cultural resonance, you wouldn't hear me complain!

OB:

What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?

KR:

That's a bit of a trick question. How can a source of inspiration be unlikely? If poets could choose the times and places they are to be blessed by the muse then poetry wouldn't be the challenging work it is. The most unlikely source of inspiration will produce my next poem.

OB:

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

KR:

When I have trouble writing a poem it means the poem is working too well. It means I've brought myself to the place in the poem where the fate of the world rests on the next word. When that happens I do my fair share of procrastinating. That is to say, I cower in fear. But why not? This is it's own form of respect and it also allows me some space to consider my next move. There is no recourse but to return to the poem and try to hash it out. I have spent days stuck on one line only to end up with fewer lines than I started with. But in the midst of my stewing I revel in my affection for these crafty devils we call words.

OB:

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

KR:

I found Derek Walcott's The Star-Apple Kingdom here in Trinidad where I am working on a poetry manuscript thanks to a Canada Council writer's grant. It's the first time I have read Walcott. His gift for metaphor is staggering, humbling even, e.g. "Bells punish the dead streets". I'm ecstatic to have discovered his work at a time in my life that it really speaks to me.

OB:

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

KR:

The best thing about being a poet is the absolute freedom I feel to say what I want. I believe this is a quality that should be nurtured in all people. The worst thing about being a poet is that there are considerable challenges to the prospect of writing poetry full-time.

Kirk Ramdath is a mainstay among Calgary’s poets and spoken-word artists. His "Passion Pitch" poetry series has brought together a wide range of writers to share their words and music, drinks and discussion in an era when the open mic reading, so fertile a ground for many writers practicing today, has been abandoned. He has organized poetry in the park readings and as well as some of the readings in the Single Onion series. Kirk’s poetry has appeared in chapbooks, journals and on stage — he was one of the first readers in the Calgary Spoken-Word Festival’s "Smart Men, Hot Words" readings. His poetry is noted, appropriately, given the reading series he founded, for its passion and sensuality.

For more information about Love in a Handful of Dust please visit the Frontenac House website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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