Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Suzanne Robertson

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Suzanne Robertson

Open Book is celebrating National Poetry Month with daily profiles of today's "unacknowledged legislators of the world." Find out what inspires, confounds and delights the poets behind this spring's new releases by following our series.

In Buddhist philosophy, paramitas are actions that spark a spiritual sojourn. The poems in Suzanne Robertson's first collection, Paramita, Little Black (Guernica Editions), inhabit the transformations of the soul that accompany such journeys. This is a book about intimacy, its transcendence and its impossibility, and about the "lies and the gossip and the truth of the river / as it pours out the mouth of right-now."

Open Book:

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

Suzanne Robertson:

It’s hard to choose just one, there are so many: swimming in rivers; being raised in a small town; working in factories; eating a bowl of cereal as a child at the kitchen table and watching this fox stare at me through the window; wanting to say something to someone I love without having the ability to speak it.

But then there’s also something that came after all that… I had moved to Vancouver in my early 20s and was living in a cold, dank room painted a bad-ass red, working the night shift at a copy centre, and it started to rain and it didn’t let up until six months later, and there was some monumental struggle between sanity and its opposite going on in my body, and the antidote, the vaccine for all that grey, the heroic flex of stamina and beauty I could feel each day was in the body of a poem. I couldn’t leave the red room without one and I couldn’t sleep unless the poetry books were literally lined up against me each night.

OB:

What is the first poem you remember being affected by?

SR:

I don’t remember much poetry from my childhood or youth. Mostly I recall the annoying, sing-song voice of poetry that my teachers would recite with, and we, as restless ten-year-olds, would mindlessly parrot back from the islands of our desks.

So then I start to think of Concordia University, which I attended in the mid-1990s, and those poetry workshops and a whole world of affectation and intimacy was discovered. I remember the bells chiming inside me for Deborah Digges's Vespers Sparrows and just about anything by Stanley Kunitz would tear me up, and Ray Carver’s “Late Fragment”, and Erin Moure’s Furious and Roy Kiyooka’s Pear Tree and Phyllis Webb’s Naked Poems — how she keeps returning to the blouse on the floor, “star fish/fish star”…at some point I got my hands on Anne Carson’s "The Glass Essay” and that one turned me inside-out and made me froth at the mouth a little.

OB:

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

SR:

You do realize how unfair that question is. Can’t think too much about this one because there are too many. Right now, right this moment it’s Jack Gilbert’s “How to Love the Dead.”

OB:

What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?

SR:

Frightened, nervous armpits.

OB:

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

SR:

I stand on top of the kitchen table and read it out loud to my plants Thor and Linda. They usually know what’s working and what isn’t.

OB:

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

SR:

Mary Jo Bang’s Elegy (Graywolf Press, 2009).

OB:

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

SR:

What’s the best?

All those wild thoughts that happen in polyester pants over the photocopier; being a poet seems to provide me with an absurd, incognito sense of freedom, there is the everyday grind and there’s language to name it that contributes to an untamed feeling over everything; like being a spy in the house of love or a spy in the house of pain or spy in the house of boredom….

What’s the worst?

The pay. The pay definitely sucks.

And sometimes trying to find the motivation to write feels like being asked to be the dentist to a lion that has gone without food for 30 days…. and when you finally say yes, you find yourself locked in a cage with this strange hungry creature and your only hope of survival is some floss and a silver instrument the size of a toothpick.

A Toronto writer and photographer, Suzanne Robertson works at the Children’s Aid Society, is a member of PEN Canada and Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography and volunteers with Hospice Toronto. Paramita, Little Black is her first collection of poetry.

For more information about Paramita, Little Black please visit the Guernica Editions website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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