Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Elana Wolff

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On Writing, with Elana Wolff

Elana Wolff talks to Open Book about poetry, writing and her latest book, Implicate Me: Short Essays on Reading Contemporary Poems (Guernica Editions). Head to Bar Italia on July 13th for Guernica's Three Book Launch for Implicate Me, Light and Time by Michael Mirolla and Floating Bodies by Julie Roorda.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your new book, Implicate Me: Short Essays on Contemporary Poems.

Elana Wolff:

Implicate Me is a collection of short essays on individual poems — mostly by Toronto-area poets. The title is a summons to involvement. It comes from the feeling I’ve had, and want to have, of being pulled into a poem by its tone, rhythm, images, diction, also by the dramas of the poet’s perception and emotion. I mean to implicate the reader too — to show that through the act of closely attending to a poem, tuning to its workings, we become enfolded in the poetic process.

OBT:

How did you decide which poets to include in Implicate Me?

EW:

I wanted to celebrate the work of GTA poets and publishers. I chose for diversity of elements and expression, and for a male/female balance. The 33 essays and accompanying poems originally appeared over a five-year period (2002–2007) in the monthly newspaper of the Scarborough Arts Council,Surface&Symbol, which has a largely local circulation and membership. All the poets whose pieces are contained in the collection had published at least one book at the time of my writing, and although many have achieved distinctions, few are widely-known.

OBT:

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

EW:

I wrote for a general readership — for anyone interested in the workings of poems. I hoped to say things that the poets themselves would find illuminating, too, and was always challenging myself to read alertly.

OBT:

What was your first publication and where was it published?

EW:

I don’t remember my very first publication — probably something in a high school yearbook or a letter to an editor. According to the record, however, my first poem to be published was a little piece titled “Robber’s Cap” — in the Spring1997 issue of The Dalhousie Review.

OBT:

Which poets got you interested in poetry?

EW:

When I started writing poetry regularly I was affected by the earlier work of Mary Oliver — her collections Twelve Moons, Dream Work and American Primitive. Charles Simic’s surreal voice also appealed to me — particularly in Walking the Black Cat, The World Doesn’t End, The Book of Gods and Devils and Dime-Store Alchemy. I loved, and still do, the fierce unshielded passion of Jack Gilbert’s poems in The Great Fires, also the gentle directness of Jane Kenyon’s writing in Let Evening Come and Otherwise. But it was the poetry of Louise Glück that startled me most. When I read and reread the poems in Ararat and The Wild Iris I felt completely undressed — as if Glück was expressing my own disaffected dark inner voice, saying what I would say in the same razored way, if I could be that openly exposed.

OBT:

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

EW:

Island, Alastair McLeod’s exquisitely-written, elegiac stories of Cape Breton.

Children of My Heart — Ces enfants de ma vie in the original, Gabrielle Roy’s last book, based on her coming-of-age experiences as a teacher in a small prairie town during the 1930s.

What the Furies Bring, Kenneth Sherman’s collection of lyrical essays, beginning with stories and myths from his own Jewish family history, and including explorations of the lives and writing of authors who endured horrors of the twentieth century without losing their commitment to humanism.

For readers of poetry I’d include books by two of Canada’s most celebrated poets as well — Another Gravity by Don McKay and The Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson.

OBT:

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

EW:

Read closely and widely, observe intently and live fully. Write what you would want to read. Join a peer group and have your voice heard. Get feedback and avidly work at the craft — the muse visits those who labour daily. Develop a thick skin and be prepared for rejection. Persevere, but keep in mind that publication isn’t everything.

OBT:

What is your next project?

EW:

I’m shaping a fourth book of poetry, and reshaping a therapeutic art course I’ll be facilitating in the fall.


Elana Wolff is a writer, editor and therapeutic art facilitator who lives in Thornhill, Ontario. Her poetry has appeared in publications in the US, UK and Canada — including Canadian Literature, The Malahat Review, Grain, Carousel, Taddle Creek Magazine, Vallum Contemporary Poetry, The Nashwaak Review, The Fiddlehead and The Antigonish Review. She is the author of five books. Her third collection, You Speak to Me in Trees, was awarded the 2008 F. G. Bressani Prize for Poetry. Implicate Me: Short Essays on Reading Contemporary is her first book of essays.

For more information about Implicate Me: Short Essays on Reading Contemporary Poems please visit the Guernica Editions website.

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

2 comments

As an artist, I am most interested in the creative process of inspiration; those moments from the past present or future that inspire one to create. Elana Wolff has so beautifully described this process through the eyes of a writer, "observe intently and live fully."

I have been following Elana Wolff ever since reading her first book of poetry "Birdheart". She is an inspiration to readers and writers alike. I am so looking forward to this new collecion of essays on poems.

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