Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Steve Meagher

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Steven Meagher

The poems in Steven Meagher's Navy Blue (Guernica Editions) capture the late night colouring of its title — exhilarating, sharp, urban and smart. It's an insightful debut that takes on everything from tabloid news to childhood heroes, tipping its hat to Ray Souster, Irving Layton and others.

We always love talking to debut writers as they add their voices to the CanLit landscape. Today we welcome Steven as part of our Poets in Profile series, where we ask our poets to explore how they came to the craft, the poems that shaped them and what they get from the writing life.

He tells us about how mixtapes led him to poetry, the difference between giving up and knowing when to walk away, and the "wild creation" of writing poetry.

Open Book:

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

Steven Meagher:

About five years ago I was living in Toronto and took a job at a refinery downtown. It was mostly evening and overnight shifts, so I’d usually get home from work early in the morning and sleep into the afternoon. By the time I woke up everyone else would already be in the middle of their work days, so I'd have an empty apartment to myself for a few hours. Those afternoons were probably when I first started taking myself seriously as a writer and really committing to the poems I was working on. Looking back, that summer was a kind of apprenticeship for me. I was still years away from having any of my work published, but I came out of it with a clear vision of the kind of poems I wanted to write and the stories I was interested in telling.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


I’m not sure if this qualifies, but when I was around 14 or 15 years old I got really into hip-hop music. Artists like The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, All Natural, Nas and Talib Kweli were a big deal for me. It was the early 2000s, right before MP3s and digital music really took off, and I was always making mixtapes to listen to at lunch and after school with my friends. Some of that music definitely opened me up to the power of verse. The way these emcees could stack words and images on top of each other to paint a picture or convey a message. It was a great discovery.


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


I don't know. Maybe something by Roque Dalton or Roberto Bolaño. There's something about those two poets that draws me in. I think it's the way they always seemed to write it in blood. Reading them, I walk away with the feeling that poetry isn't just a creative exercise or form of expression. It's a weapon to go to war with. Since I can only choose one, I'll go with 'Lupe' by Roberto Bolaño. That's one of my favourites of his.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


My day job. Most of the time I tend to view work as something that takes time and energy away from my writing, but there have been a few occasions when the idea or inspiration for a poem hits me while I'm at work, and a couple of poems that I never could've written if I didn't work where I do.


What do you do with a poem that just isn't working?


I let it go. It sounds simple, but it actually took me a long time to get to a place where after spending hours or days or weeks on a poem I could scrap the whole thing and move on. Just a couple of years ago, if a poem wasn't working I'd probably either pound it into submission or strip it for spare parts, but these days I'm more likely to step away from the table and forget about it forever. It almost sounds like giving up, but I don't really think of it that way. I just think that the more I write, the better I've become at knowing when I need to bear down and when I should cut my losses and start over.


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


Right now I'm slowly working my way through Thomas Merton's Collected Poems. It's a massive book — over a thousand pages — but I'm enjoying the marathon so far. In terms of more recent collections, I really liked Ian Williams' Personals. His poem 'Rings' is so damn good. I read it over Christmas and it's been running through my head ever since.


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


For me, the best thing is tied to the creative process. I love really digging in and getting to that place where everything else seems to slip away and the poem becomes the only thing that matters. Usually I know I'm properly invested in a poem when I've grown so close to it that I can no longer tell if it's any good or not. That judgment comes later, after I've resurfaced on the other side and can look at the writing with a critical eye. But it's the being buried in the wild creation of the poem that I like most. And the worst thing is the voice in my head that's always telling me to "Write more" or "Write better" or "Focus Steven". It's unrelenting and never lets me relax on evenings and weekends the way I imagine most people do.

Steven Meagher grew up in Oakville, Ontario. His poems have appeared in The Maynard, The Nashwaak Review and Ottawa Arts Review. His first book, Navy Blue, will be published by Guernica Editions in Spring 2016. He lives in Toronto.

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

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