Poet, critic, editor, and anthologist, Anne Compton is the author of two books of poetry Opening the Island(2002), winner of the Atlantic poetry Prize, and Processional (2005), winner of the Governor-General’s Award and the Atlantic Poetry Prize. In 2008, she received the Alden Nowlan Award for Excellence in the Literary Arts.
Questions & Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
I was writing poetry as a child but I don’t remember why I started. As a child, I lived in a busy household, the youngest of eleven children, so I had a retreat—a getaway place under the dining room table. The spare leaf for the table was stored beneath and that created a shelf, which is where I kept my secret possessions. I remember writing a poem—a hymn, actually—and hiding it there. Much later in my life, upon completion of an academic book that had taken ten years to write, I made the decision that I was not going to do anything of that length again. I was going to write short essays and I was going to turn in the direction of poetry. So, the decision to publish poetry—or try to—came relatively late in my life.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
As for sources, my poetry comes from my rural roots, from a lifetime spent in the study of literature, and from a religious temperament that inclines me to value ritual. I’m not fond of the word “inspiration.” If you’re a poet, you are a poet all of the time, not just in “inspired” moments.
What is your writing process?
Poems often begin with a word, phrase, or line I’ve overheard in others’ talk, or heard in my memory or in my imagination. I want to know to whom that line belongs—the character of the speaker—and I want to know the story that follows upon the “given” line.
What is your revision/editing process?
I revise over a long period of time, for years in the case of some poems. I write the first draft longhand and then move to the computer, print and revise repeatedly. I keep every stage of the process so that by the time I publish a poem, there is a thick pile of variants. Some day, I’ll have a lot of burning to do.
Did you write poetry in high school? If yes, how did you get started? If no, why not?
I didn’t write in high school. I wrote as a child and then again in my 20s and ever since, although it was long after my 20s that I started publishing. I had a very long apprenticeship. In high school I was interested in physics and basketball. I was preoccupied.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
The best resource for any writer is our capability in observation, an alertness that can be developed and strengthened by jotting down what you notice visually and aurally. Beyond that, a writer’s best resource is the literature already written and, in particular, the literature of the locale where you live so that you can hear back the voice that is your own by virtue of the family, community, and area in which you grew up.
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
To hear a poet read his or her words aloud—to hear the cadence, the music of those lines—is motivating for an aspiring writer of any age. Ideally, every high school should have available, through the internet, a library of poets’ readings, and these should be made part of the curriculum for English literature or French literature, depending on the school.