Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Great Canadian Writer's Craft Interview: Nikki Reimer

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Nikki Reimer

This spring, students from Malvern Collegiate Institute's Writer's Craft class conducted interviews with Canadian poets as part of a class project. The interviews will be posted on The Great Canadian Writer's Craft page on Open Book throughout June. In this interview, Malvern Collegiate student Claire speaks with artist and poet Nikki Reimer ([sic], Frontenac House 2010).

Claire:

Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to take part in this interview. Your poetry has drawn me in and left me wanting to read more and more. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading through [sic] and I feel as though through doing so, I have developed a better understanding of you as a poet, and of poetry in general. However, there are always more things to know, and from that point, I have a few questions to ask you.

Nikki Reimer:

Hi Claire! First off, thank you very much for your thoughtful and insightful questions, and for spending time with my work.

Claire:

You have experimented with many types of art, including different types of writing. Throughout the years, you’ve moved from Calgary to Vancouver and back to Calgary. Have you noticed a difference in the kind of emotion that these two places evoke from you? If so, how does that emotion transfer into your work? Did this play a role in your choice to move back to Calgary?

NR:

Place has always been very important to me, in terms of how I situate myself as an artist within my local community, and with regards to what moves me to write. I suppose you could say that emotion also plays a part.

Calgary and Vancouver are the only two cities in which I’ve lived, and I have found them to be different on every level: geographically, culturally, socially, artistically. The writing communities in each city are also quite different. So as an artist, in each setting, I have been influenced, inspired and enraged by the phenomenon and the context around me; from the rampant gentrification that is currently swallowing Vancouver, to my adolescent frustration with what I saw as the corporate whoredom that I had to engage in when I worked in Calgary. So these “ugly feelings” in response to irritation and injustice are driving forces that I’m trying to explore in my work, though I’d like to think that my analyses of power structures has grown a bit more nuanced over the years.

I wish I could say that my move back to Calgary had been influenced by a desire to reunite with the artistic community here. My husband and I had been considering relocation back to Calgary, because living in Vancouver is becoming increasingly untenable for all but the highest income brackets. Then my beloved younger

brother, musician Chris Reimer, died unexpectedly in February 2012, and I felt that I needed to return to the place where he had lived to mourn and grieve, and to be closer to my parents.

Claire:

Your poems are intriguing because they tell a story. They do not follow a specific pattern or rhyme scheme, which allows you to write what needs to be written, and have no barriers. Have you experimented with syllabically patterned or rhythmically patterned poetry very much? If so, how did you find the experience in comparison to the kind of poetry you’re used to writing?

NR:

Thank you. I have tried more formal compositions; they generally don’t work out in a way that I find aesthetically pleasing, though in principal I do think that formal constants can be a necessary compositional tool. I was working on a suite of corvid-inspired poems while I lived in Vancouver and experimented with a fibonacci sequence. (If you don’t know, a Fibonacci or Fib poem is a six line, 20 syllable poem with a syllable count by line of 1/1/2/3/5/8 — with as many syllables per line as the line’s corresponding place in the Fibonacci sequence). I thought I would write a “corvinacci” sequence…but they were awkward and clunky, so I ended up tossing them out. I have found flarf, collage, erasure and digital methods to be more generative for me than formalism.

Claire:

As I was researching, I came across a poem you’ve written called “The Big Other.” The tone and content of the poem drew me in immediately, I picked a few lines which I found stuck with me the most: “The whole time we were pretty sure we weren’t the Establishment — Some of these mental midgets should be occupying jail cells and the rest should be occupying wherever it is they receive their mail.” The poem sounds as though it is written from a memory about something that has happened to you, or thoughts you had once possessed. If this poem is written from something that you experienced first hand, does this poem evoke dark emotions from you? If not, what were you imagining while writing this poem?

NR:

“The Big Other” is based on a psychoanalytic concept devised by Jacques Lacan. In Lacan’s writing, The Big Other is basically the symbolic representation of an external power structure. (If any Lacanian theorists are reading this, I’m sure they will take umbrage at the simplicity of my summary…) In my poem “The Big Other,” in general, every odd numbered line (first, third, fifth, seventh and so on) in that poem is written by me. Every even numbered line (second, fourth, sixth, eighth and so on) is found text that I appropriated off the internet. I was working through the concept of what it meant to be in a low power position, but I was also thinking about representations of Generation Y in pop culture. To create the poem, so I cribbed lines from comment boards talking about the Occupy movement, and from a news article that chronicled economically successful individuals in my age bracket who were opting for Botox surgery to improve their socioeconomic standing. I added in my own responses to those lines or musings on events from my own life. So “the whole time we were pretty sure we weren’t the Establishment” was a reflection on my socioeconomic class, while “Some of these mental midgets should be occupying jail cells and the rest should be occupying wherever it is they receive their mail” is an online commenter’s snark about activists in the Occupy movement.

Claire:

Many of the poems in [sic] refer to and explain different parts of Calgary, from the people who live there, to the city itself and its character. Did you write [sic] with the intention of basing so much of its contents off of Calgary and your experiences with that city, or did those poems merely find their way into the book without your intention?

NR:

Yes, I was consciously trying to write Calgary in [sic]. In a sense, the book is a “coming of age story” but it’s also the story of a city. My next manuscript is set more “in media” (in medias res??) — online, in the newspaper, on television, rather than in a physical place.

Claire:

Many artists say that their best pieces are created when they’re in a state of depression or loneliness, as their work then comes from a deep place. Do you feel this way about your writing, or you do you find that you can write pieces you are very proud of and which mean a lot to you, when you’re at a point of no intense emotion?

NR:

Well, I disagree with the idea that the only deep places are to be found within depression or loneliness — I think depression in particular is often rather a state of emptiness and creative infertility. But I am very interested in representations of disordered or non-normative mental states in literature, and I recently co-edited a special issue of Poetry is Dead magazine on mental health with Vancouver poet Kevin Spenst. It also is true that more creatives than not tend to have some form of mental illness, which many contemporary as well as previous writers have addressed in their work.

That said, I like to work through various drafts of the same poem. The initial notes and scraps and ideas for a piece usually do come from states of intense emotion: despair, anger, frustration, jealousy, grief, but I need to be in a calmer state to write the drafts of the piece, and I need to be in an even calmer, unemotional state to edit.

Claire:

Since 2010 you have not published a new book of poetry, and have focused more on your work at Schulich School of Engineering. Do you intend on writing another compilation of poetry, or are you waiting to see if inspiration strikes?

NR:

Nice sleuthing, though I have only been working at the Schulich School of Engineering for five weeks!

Like every other poet I have ever known, I cannot make a living through my poetic work, so I must balance a day job that I enjoy with the aesthetic and critical work that gives my life meaning. I am very fortunate to currently have a day job that I like, which does not mentally drain me to the point that I cannot do my writing on evenings and weekends, as I have found with previous jobs I have held. I have been working on a second book since [sic] was published, and it is slated to come out in spring 2014. I have also continued to write and publish in journals, take on editing projects and give readings, and I had the opportunity to attend a two week residency at the Banff Centre this past February called In(ter)ventions, where I worked on a long elegiac piece of digital literature in honour of my late brother Christopher. Community is as important to my process as my own output. I try to participate in my writing communities, read the work of my peers, attend events, and take in as much local art as I can. I’m currently on the board of Mountain Standard Time, a southern Alberta-based performative art festival. My family started a legacy fund society to grant scholarships to youth in music and dance education in my brother’s name. All of these activities are works of love, and they all feed my writing.


Nikki Reimer’s first book of poetry, [sic] (Frontenac House 2010), was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award. She is author of the chapbooks that stays news (Nomados Press 2011), haute action material (Heavy Industries 2011) and fist things first (Wrinkle Press 2009). Her poetry, artwork and criticism have appeared in various places, online and off. A second poetry manuscript is forthcoming. Reimer recently attended the In(ter)ventions Residency at the Banff Centre. Visit reimerwrites.com.


Outgoing and indecisive are two words which describe eighteen-year-old Claire, perfectly. Born and raised in the diverse community of Toronto, Ontario, she has been exposed to many realities. The youngest of three children, Claire has grown up being the baby, and now, as high school approaches a fast end, she looks forward to her coming year in Whistler, BC and all the new experiences that will come along with her farewell to high school.

1 comment

What a great idea to introduce high school students to live poets. For next time, don't forget the poet, Adele Graf in Ottawa.

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.

Related item from our archives

The Great Canadian Writer's Craft

Each year, students from Malvern Collegiate Institute's Writer’s Craft class interview Canadian poets as part of a class project. The students study Canadian poetry under the collaborative tutelage of teacher John Ouzas and poet a.rawlings. We are delighted to feature the interviews on Open Book.

Go to The Great Canadian Writer's Craft’s Author Page