Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Meaghan Strimas

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On Writing, with Meaghan Strimas

Meaghan Strimas, author of A Good Time Had By All (Exile Editions), talks to Open Book about her writing process and the Canadian authors she admires.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your latest book, A Good Time Had By All.

Meaghan Strimas:

A Good Time Had By All is my second poetry collection. There are some bawdy poems that trace the embraces of lonely characters who are feeling their way through the dark. There are poems about shame, regret, disappointment, and running on empty. There is one long poem called “Gnome, Sweet Gnome,” which is about a lovely, crazy older man who is searching for his missing garden gnome (in other words, he’s looking for love in all the wrong places…). “Looking for love in all the wrong places” is probably a good way to summarize the theme of this book.


OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

MS:

To be honest, I didn’t. Mostly, when I sit down to write, I try to write about what interests me... then, I hope to heck that other people might be interested as well. I think any writer has to be deeply interested in his or her subject. This is essential. If the writer isn’t convinced, then how can he or she expect the reader to be? I think every writer worries about how a book will be received, and I’m sure some writers know exactly whom they are writing for — but I don’t. I can’t imagine sketching out a profile of my ideal reader. (Maybe: Mid-thirties. Slightly depressed. Unhappy in his/her job. Too broke to buy a book....) I definitely want a readership. I would be lying if I said I didn’t. All writers want to be read. (And I will mention that I still have trouble thinking of myself as a writer.) I do, on the other hand, think of the reader in the sense that I want my writing to be understood: clarity, grammatically sound writing, and writing that is rooted in common experience matters to me.


OBT:

Where do you gather your inspiration from?

MS:

I think some writers are “idea” driven, while others are driven by “experience.” I definitely come by most of my material through my experiences. I don’t doubt the validity of my observations because most of my experiences aren’t unique to me alone. The people and moments that capture my attention become my material. A number of the poems in A Good Time... were written while I was working in bars. A number of poems were written out of heartbreak — not just romantic heartbreak either, but the disappointments and hurdles that come with being alive. I suppose I want to think of myself as a compassionate person, and I hope this comes across in my work. Remaining compassionate is a battle of sorts and one that every human faces.


OBT:

Do you spend much time revising your work?

MS:

I don’t think I ever written a poem in one draft, and I wouldn’t want to either. There are always words that have to be replaced, images that have to be reshaped and lines that must be clarified or cut. Some poems are definitely easier to write than others, and I don’t know why exactly this is the case. I want my writing to be open and accessible, and it’s rarely accessible in the early stages. I actually enjoy rewriting, though there are times when I become frustrated because I know, on some level, that I haven’t quite managed to convey what it is I think needs to be said, and there are times when I don’t know if I’ll ever get a piece to where it is meant to be. I’ve abandoned a lot of poems only to find that bits and pieces find a home in something else. In my mind, a big part of writing is revision, and in many ways, I think writing and revising are the same thing. Good writing is usually surrounded by a lot of bad writing that has to be sloughed away. To be honest, I don’t really like publishing books. When I received the proofs for A Good Time Had By All, I felt ill. I wanted to start the book all over again. Before every reading, when I sit down to decide what I should read, I find myself crossing things out, scribbling new lines in the pages of the book. I’ve admitted this urge to a few other writers, and one writer helped me relax a little: she said that a book is a representation of a time in a writers life, and when that time has ended, it’s time to let it go and move on.


OBT:

When did you first start writing and what did you write?

MS:

I began to write when I was about sixteen and I wrote really sappy poetry. Is that at all surprising?


OBT:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

MS:

I do like quiet. And I prefer to write when I am completely alone. And I would love to have a few months — even weeks — off to write, but I work in the Arts and I’m mostly broke, living from paycheque to paycheque. I’m usually nagged and worried about what I have to get done for work, what project has to be completed, and so I often find that I fit writing in when I can, which isn’t nearly as often as I should. I have a solid wood desk, which I like, and I use my grandfather’s old office chair, which is probably a really dumb move because I feel as old as my grandpa was when he died after sitting in his chair for a few hours. There is a window in front of my desk, which looks out on my front garden, so I am pretty darn lucky. But, really, I think I’d write the best if I had a little time to really stop and think. Until then (yeah, right), I make the best of what I have, and I find I can write anywhere if I make my mind up to do it.


OBT:

What Canadian writers do you admire? Why?

MS:

Alice Munro has always been my favourite. My mother introduced me to Munro’s work when I was 13 or 14, and after I read her most recent collection, I reread Dance of the Happy Shades, and I was blown away all over again. I need her to write at least one more book. I really liked Lisa Foad’s collection of short stories, The Night is a Mouth, and I’m waiting for her next book. Nathan Whitlock [full disclosure: Nathan is my beau] is an amazing novelist and he’s working on a new novel. Of course, I read a lot of poetry, and I amazed by writers like P.K. Page, Karen Solie, David O’Meara, Alessandro Porco, Suzanne Buffam, Stuart Ross, Stephanie Bolster, Paul Veermeersch, Jacob McArthur Mooney, Alden Nowlan, Dennis Lee, Chris Doda, Priscila Uppal, Adam Getty, etc., etc.


OBT:

What is your next project?

MS:

I am writing a novel. It’s early days and I have no idea if it will land on its feet, but I’m determined and excited to see it through to the end.


Meaghan Strimas lives in Toronto, where she works at Quill & Quire magazine and for the University of Guelph's Creative Writing MFA program. She is the editor of The Selected Gwendolyn MacEwen and the author of two collections of poetry, Junkman’s Daughter, and most recently, A Good Time Had By All. She is currently at work on a novel.

For more information about A Good Time Had By All please visit the Exile Editions website.

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

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