Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


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Maureen McLane’s book, “My Poets,” goes beyond poetics and criticism into a kind of channeling of the poets themselves: her versions of their work, her obsessions with their obsessions. She not only enters the spirit of poets ranging from H.D. to Louise Gluck, but gets inside their larynxes as well.

I remember trying so hard to write like Eliot and ending up sounding as arch as a fake British accent. I also went through a rather torrid relationship with Neruda’s work, rolling between his lines, thinking that if only I could roar like the Pacific, that glorious miracle of osmosis would occur. But the worst was a bout with Atwood. I couldn’t have chosen a more different sensibility than my own. Her chilliness made my own tendency to gush feel like quicksand. I desperately clung to her, my chin just above the muck. “You fit into me like a hook into an eye/a fish hook, an open eye.” The focus was brilliant, a million love poems condensed to one two-line shock. I managed to winnow down to next-than-nothing, but where she sounded wise and glib, I only sounded dull.

But what a learning experience, both humbling and transformative. Who we aren’t is practically as important as who we are.

It takes some of us a long time to find our own voice. We’ve been steeped in such a rich brine of other people’s poetry that it can be hard to identify the speck of self floating somewhere near the bottom of the jar.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Barry Dempster

Barry Dempster, twice nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, is the author of fourteen poetry collections, two novels, two volumes of short stories and a children’s book.

Go to Barry Dempster’s Author Page