Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On the idea of a secret—a conversation with Jennifer Londry

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On the idea of a secret—a conversation with Jennifer Londry

Part 3:
Q&A with Jennifer Londry

Sandra Ridley: How do you integrate the direct and personal ‘I’ into your poetry? Or does the ‘I’ tend to be an ‘other’?

Jennifer Londry: For me the ‘I’ belongs alongside the ego of someone else’s other. That is not to say I never use it, I do, but it is seldom directed at me and it is usually obliquely stated and swiftly moved on from. ‘I’ is the needle in which the thread loops through (its the vessel not the object.) It is a way of getting an emotion across on a more personal level, or a way to funnel a global idea down to its finest pertinent parts. Strangely, the reader wants the ‘I’— to be you—and in some sense you want the “I” to be the personal you to demystify whatever it is that someone has read into your work.

SR: Do you have any allegiance to integrating, purely, your lived experiences into your work? Or do you prefer to obfuscate or disassociate?

JL: Tricky question. “Pure” life experience chances a person, so in sense yes, I do feel an allegiance to be authentic if I’m writing about a time that has profoundly changed my life. However, in the general sense of the word, for me, it’s an abstract concept. In that I mean how reliable are the sensory trackers that absorb outside information? I do incorporate snippets of truth when they are unequivocally necessary—lending the work more credence, authenticity. I may start with a truth in mind, but always come at it from the sidelines as though two people were viewing the same image, having the same thought at precisely the exact moment. So I guess in a way I prefer a mixed type of obfuscated clarity that has literary buoyancy. I don’t want to be a diarist, creating disconnects between the lines, for me it serves no purpose and often the salvage of that type of self-actualization seems hyperbolic at best.

SR: How do you negotiate the need to write truths with the notion that doing so may mean personal exposure to your own detriment, or that your portrayal of truth may involve a betrayal of the private experiences of others? Or, in other words, how do you weigh the costs and benefits regarding the integration of private or shared truths?

JL: “The first casualty of war is the truth,” comes to mind as Churchill wisely observed. I believe if you’re going to write something truthful according to your own belief system and personal philosophy—then get behind it. Self-detriment can be a great teaching tool as well as the fuel of good biography, not necessarily good poetry however, because it’s hard to be literally explicit while keeping to the confines of brevity without being or sounding droll.

To betray a secret, someone else’s, seems like a cowardice deflection—Truth without permission diminishes the integrity of the writer, in that, truth should generate questions invite dialogue and if it isn’t your story to tell then you’re acting in a fraudulent way akin to gossip.

SR: Do you think anyone might want to confront and/or attack you for material you have written? If so, what would you say to them? Do you worry or regret?

JL: Hm, good question. I do believe people have different view points. And in being authentic one must walk softly and carry a big stick, right? I think the answer lays somewhere between speculation and truth, content and the energy there within. Pleading the fifth in a public forum can be a mechanism for public salvation, but when it’s on the page it is public domain in a way. Should a writer feel compelled to defend the work and be prepared to duke it out with the unforeseen, the doomsday critic, the naysayer in the room, my answer is yes if a writer wants to establish credibility. At the end of the day its interpretation that matters and that barometer is hard to measure. The question that is most important for me is—is an omission of truth a betrayal? I say why deliberately create misunderstanding unless it’s a means to generate engaging discussion. Should all readers come to the page with a curious desire to suspend their disbelief in order to have an authentic experience? In a way it’s a question of ethics isn’t it—

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Sandra Ridley

Sandra Ridley’s first full-length collection of poetry, Fallout, won the 2010 Saskatchewan Book Award for publishing, the Alfred G. Bailey prize, and was a finalist for the Ottawa Book Award. Her second book, Post-Apothecary, was short-listed for the 2012 ReLit and Archibald Lampman Awards. Also in 2012, Ridley won the international festival Of Authors’ Battle of the Bards and was featured in The University of Toronto’s Influency Salon. Twice a finalist for the Robert Kroetsch Award for innovative poetry, Ridley is the author of two chapbooks: Rest Cure, and Lift, for which she was co-recipient of the bpNichol Chapbook Award. Her latest book is The Counting House (BookThug 2013). She lives in Ottawa.

You can contact Sandra throughout the month of September with questions and comments at

Go to Sandra Ridley’s Author Page