Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Rosemary Clewes

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Rosemary Clewes

Former CBC Literary Award nominee Rosemary Clewes returns this fall with her third book, Paper Wings (Guernica). A collection of poems in five parts, Paper Wings has been called "a book of power and energy and image and rhythm and prayer".

Rosemary speaks to Open Book today as part of our Poets in Profile series. She tells us about a fireside poetry experience that led her to write, the iconic poem she would loved to have penned and the joy of digging for truth.

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Rosemary Clewes:

We camped on the shore at St. Mary’s Bay just five miles from Cortez Island in the Canadian West. The salal grew so thickly by the shore as to be impenetrable. Thus we were left with twenty feet of beach and the tide coming in. Our kayaking instructor build a fire like a small log house and after dinner we sat in a circle around it. We passed around a boy’s adventure book and took turns reading to each other until it was finished. We moved the fire inland a tad, and by the light of the moon and blazing stars, he began to read from Mary Oliver’s “New and Selected Poems”. It was then that I decided to become a poet.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


Learning poems was part of the Literature curriculum when I went to school. The words, “Norse am I when the first snow falls;…” from Song of the Ski by Wilson Pugsley MacDonald (1880 – 1967) stills ring in my ears. I have just googled it and I understand why I loved that poem then. MacDonald has written it with a rollicking rhythm and it flies “with a dauntless air” through snow ’scapes and pine forest where “the snow is fresh and the banks are deep”. Just the poem for a ten year old, who later skied in the Austrian Alps with the “white wind” and under “the roofless world”.


What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?


I would like to have written "(anyone lived in a pretty how town)" by e.e. cummings. I like his ‘loose’ mind.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


The most unlikely and the most obvious inspiration has been the natural world, which has inspired me.


What do you do when a poem is not working?


When a poem isn’t working, I put it aside and let it cook. If I am still unhappy and it retains some energy, eluding me still, I may write quick, non-stop prose ‘blasts’ or simply turn it on its head. “What am I trying to say?” is always a best question.


What was the last book of poetry that really knocked your socks off?


My socks have fallen off my feet many times, but the longest lasting love and the one I still turn to for all kinds of help and comfort is Four Quartets by T.S.Eliot.


What is the best thing about being a poet….and what is the worst?


The best thing about being a poet is the self-reflection that digs until it finds the truth I am reaching for. The worst part is waiting for a publisher’s response assuring me that my dear manuscript has truly left home for good and will become a book.

Toronto poet Rosemary Clewes is the author of two books: Thule Explorer: Kayaking North of 77 Degrees (2008) and Once Houses Could Fly: Kayaking North of 79 Degrees (2012). In 2005, she was nominated by The Malahat Review for a National Magazine Award and, in 2006, a finalist in the CBC Literary Awards. She has made seven trips to the Arctic, travelling by kayak, raft and icebreaker.

Check out all the Poets in Profile interviews in our archives.

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