Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Elizabeth Greene

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Elizabeth Greene

Poet, professor and editor Elizabeth Greene's newest book of poetry
Understories (Inanna Publications) has been called "a layered, compelling collection". Poet Jeanette Lynes reflected on the collection, saying: "Thank goodness Greene has, in her fine poetry, dared to disturb the universe."

Today Elizabeth speaks with Open Book as part of the Proust Questionnaire series. The questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.

In her answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Elizabeth tells Open Book about the underside of history, her heroes both in the pages and in real life, and a great bookish motto.
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What is your dream of happiness?
Being part of a creative vortex of writers, artists, musicians.

What is your idea of misery?
Being caught on the underside of history — swept away by a tsunami, overcome by radiation, being battered by police in a demonstration — even when it’s non-violent, it’s not so pleasant to be facing a wall of police in full battle gear during a peaceful protest. This is so routine these days, it’s hard to realize that it wasn’t always the norm.

Where would you like to live?
Paris in the 1920’s.

What is your chief characteristic?
Clarity.

What is your principal fault?
Self-criticism (too much of a good thing).

What is your greatest extravagance?
Sometimes, clothes. Always, books. This year, work on the house.

What do you value most about your friends?
Loyalty, kindness, ability to grow.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Callousness. In my life this manifests most often as non-stop monologues.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
Uncertainty.

What is your favourite virtue?
Generosity.

What is your favourite colour?
Blue.

What is your favourite flower?
Stargazer lilies.

What is your favourite bird?
Great blue heron.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
Queen Elizabeth I.

What character in history do you most dislike?
Hitler.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Jane Austen, the Brontes, Stendhal, Katherine Mansfield, Sylvia Plath, Adele Wiseman, Alice Munro, J.K. Rowling, Helen Humphreys.

Who are your favourite poets?
Ovid, Chaucer, Dante, H.D. , Ezra Pound, Sylvia Plath, Bronwen Wallace, Sharon Olds, Jack Gilbert, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Don Coles, Sue Goyette, Lorna Crozier, Anne Michaels, Barry Dempster.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Elizabeth Bennet, Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, Harry Potter (with Ron and Hermione).

Who are your heroes in real life?
Naomi Klein, Maude Barlow, Elizabeth May, David Suzuki, Idle No More.

Who is your favourite painter?
Rembrandt.

Who is your favourite musician?
Composers: Bach, Mozart. Performers: Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, Ellen Hamilton, Sarah Harmer, Rajaton.

What is it you most dislike?
Corporate greed.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
Balletic grace.

How do you want to die?
In my sleep.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Bringing up my son.

What is your motto?
The success of the writer is in the heart of the reader.

Elizabeth Greene has published two previous collections of poetry, The Iron Shoes (2007) and Moving (2010). She edited and contributed to We Who Can Fly: Poems, Essays and Memories in Honour of Adele Wiseman (1997), which won the Betty and Morris Aaron Prize for Best Scholarship on a Canadian Subject. She has edited/co-edited four other books, and her poetry and fiction has also been published in journals and magazines across North America. She taught English for many years at Queen’s University, and was instrumental in introducing Creative Writing into the English Department and helped to found Women’s Studies. Her poetry was a finalist for Descant/Winston Collins Prize for Best Canadian Poem, 2010, 2012. She lives in Kingston with her son and three cats.

Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.

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