Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Lucky Seven Interview, with Lynda Monahan

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Lynda Monahan

Lynda Monahan's verge (Guernica Editions) has been praised for its "gentle, eloquent honesty" and described as "surprising" and "luminous". An elegant collection of poems, verge introduces readers to a small fox, symbolic of a woman facing a crossroads in her life. As the fox makes its way through various poems, so too does the woman evolve from looking at the past to forging ahead — into life, the future and self-acceptance.

Today we're talking with Lynda as part of our Lucky Seven series, a seven-question Q&A that gives readers a chance to hear about the writing processes of talented Canadian authors and gives authors a space to speak in depth about the thematic concerns of their newest books.

She tells us about the fox's role in verge, getting writing done in a hospital cafeteria and her essential writing talismans.

You can hear from Lynda (and other great Guernica authors) in person at the Guernica spring 2015 launch in Toronto! Additional guest authors include David Joiner, Calvin White, B. W. Powe, Joe Fiorito and Max Layton. The launch takes place at 4:00p.m. on Sunday, April 19, 2015 at Supermarket (268 Augusta Avenue in Kensington Market).

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book.

Lynda Monahan:

My new book is a collection of poetry titled verge. There is a fox who lopes through the book in a series of ten poems. This fox spirit acts as a guide throughout the book. verge begins with the small fox waiting at the river’s edge. The fox also represents a woman at a turning point in her life, she is on the verge of some understanding, some thing she is meant to know .The fox travels with her as she moves through various changes and losses in her life. The river holds the past and in the end, the small fox and the woman, one and the same, find their way across and come to a place of acceptance and peace.

The book came about through my desire to write about finding a way to move through painful changes and events in life.


Is there a question that is central to your book, thematically? And if so, did you know the question when you started writing or did it emerge from the writing process?


There is a question that is central to the book and I think I knew it was there all along. Two questions, really, and they are: How do you let go and forgive the past? How do you find a way to move on?


Did the book change significantly from when you first starting working on it to the final version? How long did the project take from start to finish?


Originally the collection did not have the fox in it at all. It was more a collection of disparate poems. The fox poems themselves were originally a sequence in the book titled verge, but then I separated them and used them as a way to help unify the other poems in the collection. It wasn’t until I wrote the fox poems that the manuscript gelled for me, that I found how I wanted to tell the story. The book evolved over a period of about six years.


What do you need in order to write — in terms of space, food, rituals, writing instruments?


Mostly I need silence. I have a cabin at Waskesiu Lake in Prince Albert National Park in northern Saskatchewan where I go to write, especially in the spring and fall. Also the poetry group I belong to goes on retreat weekends where I can squirrel myself away and write. I find it difficult to write at home, too many distractions, though I can if I put my mind to it. I am writer in residence at Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert and sometimes, on my coffee break, I scribble in a corner of the hospital cafeteria. I need black coffee and MacIntosh’s toffee and I have my writing talismans — a SaskPower key chain that says “call before you dig” and a tiny fox figurine and a sign over my desk that reads ‘truth’.


What do you do if you're feeling discouraged during the writing process? Do you have a method of coping with the difficult points in your projects?


I meet with my writer friends. They are always so encouraging. I love belonging to a poetry group. We celebrate and we commiserate together. We keep each other going.


What defines a great book, in your opinion? Tell us about one or two books you consider to be truly great books.


The works of Alden Nowlan. I Might Not Tell Everybody This is a book I have loved forever. He has a poem called “He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for the Retarded” which moves me every time I read it.

Another great book for me is Naomi Wolff’s The Treehouse, which is a series of lessons about writing that she learns from her aging father as they work to build a treehouse for her son. It’s brilliant. Oh, and Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Neruda. Anything by Neruda.


What are you working on now?


I am facilitator of a Writing For Your Life group associated with the Canadian Mental Health Association. Also, as hospital writer in residence, I write often with patients on the adult and youth mental health units. Their writing is brave and unpretentious and real. They are true survivors. This experience has been informing my writing of late.

A resident of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Lynda Monahan is the author of two collections of poetry: A Slow Dance in the Flames and What My Body Knows. She facilitates a number of creative writing workshops and has been writer-in-residence at St. Peter’s College facilitated retreat and at Balfour Collegiate in Regina. She is writer-in-residence at the Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert.

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