Thursday, April 30, 2020

Talking Poetics #18 : émilie kneifel

the poet holding a stick of dynamite

i am tom. jerry is anything -- joy, grief, my mother, the cardinal -- that runs into the wall as soon as i spot it. the poems are the ensuing chase, the intricate booby traps i spend hours constructing -- paying more mind to how pillow feathers look in the light than the fact that my tar vat is perfectly cat-sized -- and the drafts are what i break in the process: vases, doors, legs (always mine). but. even though i spend every waking hour sprinting, slinking, and scheming how better to sprintslink, i don’t really want to catch jerry. he’s my friend; we love to run together. it keeps us fit. it keeps us wanting.

émilie kneifel is a sick fish, goo fish, they fish, blue fish (poet, critic, editor, and co-creator of PLAYD8s). find 'em at, @emiliekneifel, and in Tiohtiáke, hopping and hoping.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

On Writing #173 : Kim Fahner

On Writing Into The Silence
Kim Fahner

I write in a few places inside my house, but the one I return to most often, where I can feel my feet on the floor, where I can feel grounded—especially in uncertain times like these—is at my little round table in the corner of my living room. From here, I can look out to the street as if it’s a stage, and then out my side window towards the trees that hover above my neighbours’ house. Daydreaming, for me, is part of the writing process. From here, I can hear the windchimes and watch the crows, and I can catch sight of the black squirrels that dance across the fence. My dog, Gully, sleeps on a chair cushion on the floor next to me as I work. One of my friends, Trish Stenabaugh, is a gifted artist—so I write with her beautiful peacock feather painting behind me. She gave it to me for my 40th birthday and the generosity of that gift made me cry. I have a ‘thing’ for birds and feathers, and for all of the poetic symbolism that they hold.

I have a candle that I light when I work, and maybe that’s part of the ritual of how I prepare myself to write, and I often have a mug of ginger or rosehip tea that just goes cold when I am busy with words. Next to the candle is an old photo of my mum and two of my uncles, Terry and Michael, back from when they used to play on the rocks when they were little kids in the 1940s. It’s an old Sudbury photo, one I’m sure that many third or fourth generation Sudburians would likely find familiar to their own inherited bunches of photos. Then, I have a cape I throw on if it gets too cold. I like to write with the window open, which is the same way I like to sleep.

Lately, being at home during the pandemic, I am grateful to have made a space that feels creative, beautiful, and safe. Lately, though, the words I so wish would come aren’t coming as often. At first, I watched people say ‘Now that I have time, I’ll write a novel’ on social media when the self-isolation started in March, and I smiled and shook my head. It’s hardly as easy as people think, if you write creatively. It takes a great deal of energy, focus, and time. Now, being in this strange pandemic head space, I have a hard time writing anything except task-oriented pieces like poetry book reviews, or tiny reflections like this, or the smallest clutch of lines of poems. Nothing seems to be working properly, creatively, in my head. It frustrates me, and it makes me unbelievably sad. When you live alone, when it’s almost too quiet and there is too much empty space, and when words are your closest companions—alongside the dog, of course—their departure is a hard one to bear. Even reading, which I usually love, isn’t something I can do easily these days. I can manage poems, mostly, but I can’t focus to read anything of length or complexity. I fill the emptiest and loneliest spaces with music. These last few weeks, it’s been Tim Baker, Glen Hansard, Chopin, Bach, Thomas Tallis, The Chieftains, Amelia Curran, Sheila Carabine, Sarah Harmer, and Cara Dillon. They help make it feel less empty.

I have a journal that I bought in St. John’s when I was there last May to launch my book and write. I write in it every couple of days, in green pen. It’s full of too true thoughts that I hope no one will ever read. It’s full of my heart, my worries, and my mind. It sits next to me, too, for the times when I need to just ‘speak’ to someone, to get it out. The artist is Hannah Viano, from Winthrop, Washington. There are images scattered in between the lined pages. I bought it because the cover’s got the image of a woman by herself in a rowboat, on a lake, headed towards shore. The weather looks to be full of movement and passion in the sky above her. She’s sturdy, though, balanced in her rowboat, and trusting that the water will carry and hold her. I like to think that’s me, even on ‘bad days.’ I like to think that I’ll float and not sink, even in stormier weather. I’ve weathered storms before. This is just another one I hadn’t expected…

I thought, the other day, sitting here and daydreaming out the window, that it would be nice to know for sure that the words will come back…but maybe, like the world, they’ve changed…and maybe I need to lean into that, trust it, and the process itself. Maybe it’s more about ‘being’ than ‘doing’ for the moment. For now, I’ll just try and breathe deeply, feel my bare feet on the hardwood floor beneath me, and listen to the birds singing outside while I find small clutches of words, like islands where I can moor my boat.  

Kim Fahner lives and writes in Sudbury, Ontario. She was poet laureate in Sudbury from 2016-18, and was the first woman appointed to the role. Kim's latest book of poems is These Wings (Pedlar Press, 2019). She's a member of the League of Canadian Poets, the Writers' Union of Canada, and a supporting member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada. Kim blogs fairly regularly at and can be reached via her author website at

Friday, April 17, 2020

Talking Poetics #17 : RM Vaughan

          I distrust everything that follows.
          Because there is no magic formula, there is no script, there is no Users’ Manual. So, asking me how I write a poem is like asking an octopus why it changes colour (except, most of the time, I am not being chased by large aquatic predators). But since you asked...
          Usually I start with a word I’ve stumbled on or a phrase, or even a quote. When I’m stuck, sometimes flipping through a book (any kind of book, whatever is to hand) helps unlock the wordy (mouthy?) part of my brain. It’s a simple reset button I use all the time. Does it always work? Hell no, but what does always work? A word prompts another word prompts a visual prompts a reference prompts a source. Or prompts me to stop. Whenever I’m asked “how do you write a poem” I counter with the simple question: how do you know when to stop writing a poem? I am never sure.
          When we talk about poetics, it feels to me like we are also talking about luck, whether we mean to or not. Of course, if one is writing a particular type of poem, a sonnet or a ghazal, one needs to learn the rules. But after that, really, discovering that perfect word, that just right rhythm, is luck. On a lucky day, the words come into my head, with great speed or great weight. On a normal day, the words wander off, don’t quite fit, sound horrible in my head, or just are not there, not there at all.
          s I age the words come to me less quickly. But when they do come to me, they carry more, signal more. Perhaps because I’ve used them before, perhaps because now the words mean very different things to me. Both reasons are good. You can’t argue with your own brain. Or history.
          As I’m writing this, I am working as Writer in Residence at my old university, the University of New Brunswick. The young writers and students ask me all the same questions I had at their age. The same questions, ultimately unanswerable.
          Just try to get it to sound like it came from your own head, I tell them. Everything after that is negotiable, and don’t get too attached to a line, or even a whole poem, I tell them. Nobody knows the secret to a good poem, I tell them.
          But everybody knows the secret to a bad poem. A bad poem is a poem that didn’t get written. A blank page is a bad poem. Poetics is luck plus nerve.

RM Vaughan is a Canadian writer and video artist. He lives in Montreal.