Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Sue Chenette

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Ten Questions with Sue Chenette

Sue Chenette will be reading from Slender Human Weight at the Guernica Editions launch on Sunday, December 6th. Please visit Open Book's events page for details.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book.

Sue Chenette:

The poems in Slender Human Weight were written over a number of years. Some grew out of the experience of living in rural France, some are about family, some were written in response to works of art – paintings, or, in one case, a dragon that an anonymous artist had hacked out of a fallen tree on the bank of the Humber River. Many of the poems examine physical objects – the opening poem, for instance, is about a notebook found in a Paris flea market. I’m interested in the richness of what lies beneath the surface; the way objects embody what we feel, dream, long for, and remember.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

SC:

No. My relationship was to each poem as I wrote it, trying to get right what it wanted me to say. Although I did hope that the poems would go out into the world and establish other relationships, with readers who would find in them echoes of their own experience.

OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

SC:

A room full of books, and with a window, preferably looking out at a tree and sky. Quiet in the rest of the house. Chocolate close at hand and the makings for a cup of tea down in the kitchen.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

SC:

A poem I wrote when I was four, when my father was serving in post-war Japan. It began, “When Daddy comes home/ the birds will sing.” It was published by the Minneapolis radio station KUOM, in a small mimeographed and stapled book with a pink cover, which was filled with contributions sent in to KUOM For Kids.

OBT:

Describe a recent Canadian cultural experience that influenced your writing.

SC:

This past Wednesday I went to the opening of the new exhibit at the Red Head Gallery. The show features 10 artists, in a variety of forms – painting, montage, installation. Several of the works have since taken up residence in my mind, where they keep turning this way and that, nudging me. I find that for me influence often works subtly and indirectly. I can’t say that these works have made their way into my writing yet, but I expect that in one way or another they will.

OBT:

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

SC:

Alice Munro’s Open Secrets, Don McKay’s Strike/Slip and a book of Emily Carr’s paintings.

OBT:

What are you reading right now?

SC:

Katha Pollitt’s new book of poems, the mind-body problem, in which she manages to be rueful and clear-sighted, yet still able to experience and offer the world’s surprising moments of delight, “the dragonfly/ asleep on the raspberry leaf.” Also the Richard Pevear/ Larissa Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace, which I read a very long time ago in another translation, and had pretty much completely forgotten. And a book of essays edited by Lynn Domina and called Poets on the Psalms in which fourteen poets explore the psalms from fourteen different angles.

OBT:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

SC:

When you come to one of those times when you think “I can’t write,” the only way out is to sit down and write.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

SC:

Keep writing. Keep sending work out. Keep a file folder full of rejection slips; there’s something perversely strengthening about owning them. Eventually a poem or story will be accepted. And share your work in the meantime – with a writing group, with friends. What’s most important is that it make its way out into the world, and being published is only one of the ways in which that can happen.

OBT:

What is your next project?

SC:

I recently completed a second manuscript – a book of poems about my father – and I’m still finding my way to what comes after that. I think of the poems I’m writing now as free-floating objects, waiting to circle around a new center of gravity.


Sue Chenette is a poet and classical pianist who grew up in northern Wisconsin and has made her home in Toronto since 1972. Her poems have appeared in literary journals and anthologies in Canada, the U.S., Great Britain, and France. She is the author of three chapbooks: A Transport of Grief, Solitude in Cloud and Sun and The Time Between Us, which won the Canadian Poetry Association’s Shaunt Basmajian Award in 2001.

 
For more information about Slender Human Weight please visit the Guernica Editions website.


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

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