Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

TTQ's Toronto Poets 5 Questions Series: Meaghan Strimas

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Meaghan Strimas

Interviewed by Darryl Salach (The Toronto Quarterly)

The Toronto Poets – 5 Questions Series is a new series initiated by The Toronto Quarterly that is geared to providing the talented poets living and writing in the city of Toronto with a bit of a broader platform in which to explain who they are as poets and what they're writing about these days. The hope is to provide this information to not only lovers of poetry residing in the city but to the casual reader of poetry who might not be aware of some of the names being featured in the five questions series. Ultimately, the hope of this series is to inform Torontonians that poetry is indeed vibrant, alive and kicking ass in our city.

Meaghan Strimas lives in Toronto, where she works at Quill & Quire magazine and for the University of Guelph's Creative Writing MFA program. She is the editor of The Selected Gwendolyn MacEwen (Exile Editions, 2007) and the author of two collections of poetry: Junkman’s Daughter (Exile Editions, 2004) and, most recently, A Good Time Had By All (Exile Editions, 2010). She is currently at work on a novel.

Her most recent collection, A Good Time Had By All, manages to pull the reader into a sinister world that Strimas has superbly concocted and lived unabashedly. These poems possess a darkness most can identify with and have been compared to a gory, glorious hangover. Earlier versions of these poems have appeared in Exile: The Literary Quarterly, The Wascana Review, Taddle Creek and the Globe and Mail, and in the anthology Poetry as Liturgy. Her poem “Lost Causes” is from A Good Time Had By All.

Lost Causes

You turn a blind eye. Lost causes don’t merit, I told you so.
I’m spoiled. Turning to curd. A rascal churning out fiascos.
I have my days, but a long list of failure lessens the glow.

I suck on mothballs. I pick my nose. Trivial. Now you know.
Fuck-up. Loser. Face distorted by my mask of pantyhose.
You turn a blind eye. Lost causes don’t merit, I told you so.

Have you heard of Noonday Demon? A bottomless low?
I wanted to chew its nose off but fell asleep in a sticky hole.
I have my days, but a long list of failure lessens the glow.

Why’s the fish catching bird’s blood in a bowl? Why does
the beetle sew the shroud? Who wrote this horror show?
Your eye wanders. My head hurts. Tell me about so & so.

I don’t blame you, not really. I’m heavy. Wet wool.
I’ve drained the sink’s dirty water. Wrung the towel.
We had our day. My endless failures lessened the glow.

Let’s not say our sorrys. Some day we’ll both go cold.
Until then, if my body writes your body & your body doesn’t
reply, should my body write your body to ask the reason why?
Never mind. You’ve turned. Say it. You told me so.

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TTQ- Your latest collection of poems, A Good Time Had by All (Exile Editions, 2010), seems inherently autobiographical, seemingly consisting of mini-snapshots of your life. Was writing this collection cathartic in many ways for you, and what things if any did you learn about yourself after writing it? What inspired the gnome poems?

MS- Yes, writing is cathartic for me. It’s an exciting, sometimes uncomfortable process that feels very indulgent. It’s a time when I can be truly alone with myself to reflect. So much of a person’s life is consumed by work, by making a buck, and it’s easy to get caught up in the management of external expectations and commitments. When I haven’t written for a while, I feel unmoored, and every day appears to be a little more pointless than the last. I like myself better when I am writing and I’m an easier person to be around. As for what I learned about myself through writing A Good Time, well, I suppose it’s that I want to do better the next time round. I can see that I’ve developed a little as a writer when I compare this book to my first, but I’m a far way from feeling as if I’ve done a good enough job. I will always have regrets.

Oh, Gnome, Sweet Gnome came about for a few different reasons:

There was a time when I was reading a lot of Robert Browning and became fascinated with the dramatic monologue. I wanted to write a narrative sequence in the voice of a character who is consumed, in the thralls of an obsessive, manic, mostly unrequited love. I wanted to write how rejection feeds infatuation. The fact that the narrator, Harry Humbolt, is in love with a concrete garden gnome is absurd, but fitting: his love is misplaced (he’s fallen for a piece of concrete), helpless from the very get-go, yet his perceived loss is his undoing. Some people in this world are always, ultimately alone.

TTQ- A Good Time Had by All was edited by Karen Solie, who won the 2010 Canadian Griffin Poetry Prize, Pat Lowther Award and Trillium Book Award for Poetry for her book Pigeon (House of Anansi, 2009). What was it like for you working with Karen Solie through the editing process, and how significant was her input? Do you think your experience with working with her has made you a better poet?

MS- I wanted to be edited by Karen Solie because I know she is a better poet than me. I wanted to work with a poet who would call me out on my nonsense, and although I don’t know Karen all that well, my gut told me that she isn’t the type of person to go easy or sugar-coat. Karen didn’t teach me how to write, but she pointed out the holes in my work, and she noted the repetitions and cheap tricks. Like a good editor, she asked the right questions.

TTQ- In your opinion, what constitutes a good poem? Take us back in time and tell us about the first poem you ever read that touched you in a way unimaginable and convinced you that from that time forward you would write poetry.

MS- I don’t know that I can adequately answer this question. The very thought of “what makes a good poem” makes me want to have a long nap. It’s a big question and every writer who is asked this question will provide a different answer. I can tell you that I appreciate clarity. I want to understand what the hell is going on in a poem. I don’t read in order to be confused. I read because I want to make a connection with another person. I am a lonesome type and I read because it provides me a certain degree of comfort. Reading a really good poem or book, connecting with the world that writer has conveyed, assures me of the fact that I am not alone in this place. I tend to have a great appreciation for writers who have set down the right words in the right place.

TTQ- How important is reading your poetry in front of a live audience? What do you learn from those experiences, and do you have a favourite venue or reading series to read in?

MS- I find reading in public nervous-making, but I do think it is important and I try to do it well. I do think that reading aloud to a group can provide an audience with a new layer of meaning, and let’s face it, reading in public allows a writer to introduce his or her work to new prospective readers. We all want to sell a few books! As for my favourite reading series, I can’t say that I have one, but I can say that I’ve really enjoyed reading at Pivot, and the IFOA is always fun because it makes me feel as if I’m actually a writer.

TTQ- Now for The Pivot Questionnaire, our Ten Part Question. What is your favourite word?

MS- It’s tie between fiasco and farce.

TTQ- What is your least favourite word?

MS- To “noodle.” “Oh, I just noodled about today.” I was once in a relationship with a guy and it wasn’t going so well for either of us; I knew the end had come when he used the word “noodle.” Yup, I can be that fickle.

TTQ- What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

MS- Well, time away from work tends to make thinking and writing a lot more doable. I love living in Toronto, but I find that it’s so easy to get caught up in work. I obsess over projects. I bought a little place in Sauble Beach a few years back (I can’t afford Toronto real estate!) and I try to get there as often as I can in the spring, summer and fall. There’s something about the quiet of the country: it makes me slow down a little. I know this sounds a predictable, but it’s the truth.

TTQ- What turns you off?

MS- Oddly enough, I sometimes find that talking to other writers turns me off writing. I mean, there are writers I love talking to but I have found that certain writers can be so bloody precious. There are people who have a real sense of entitlement, that because they are writers they are therefore special people. It can be painful.

TTQ- What is your favourite curse word?

MS- Sugar beets! I picked this lame swear up from my grandmother, who I spent a lot of time with until very recently. It sounds really nerdy but it works for me. I do drop the odd “F” bomb, but I try avoid actual swears. I don’t mind curse words, but I think we tend to overuse them. I once dated a guy who couldn’t complete a sentence without peppering every line with shit, or piss or fuck. It got a little tiresome.

TTQ- What sound or noise do you love?

MS- I love waking up early on a spring morning to the song of a robin. I also like the noise of a push lawnmower.

TTQ- What sound or noise do you hate?

MS- Oh gosh. I live in a very noisy neighbourhood. I swear, people on my street get a real kick out of watering their pavement. The hissing of a power sprayer drives me to drink. The sounds I dislike have more to do with the context they erupt within than they do with the sounds themselves. I mean, if I want some quiet, I want some peace and quiet. The very voice of a person I love can tick me off. I’m really fun to love with.

TTQ- What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

MS- I am a gardening nut. I love reading botany books, figuring out soil conditions, digging in dirt. I want to know the name of every plant and I want to understand what conditions will allow a plant to thrive. I don’t know if I’d be able to hack it, though. Working as an actual gardener/landscaper is likely not what I imagine it to be.

TTQ- What profession would you not like to do?

MS- I wouldn’t want to work in a hospital or nursing home. I have family members who are caregivers and their empathy and patience truly astonish me. I just spent a few days living in my grandmother’s nursing home room. She was dying and we all took turns being with her. I watched the staff work. Their shifts seemed to me to be endlessly gruelling: changing the dressings on tunnelling bedsores, lifting, bathing, feeding, consoling. I witnessed so many acts of kindness.

TTQ- If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

MS- This is a tough one…“You can check your white gloves and straw bonnet at the door.”

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This interview was first published in The Toronto Quarterly blog.

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