Elana Wolff’s poems have appeared in journals and anthologies in Canada, the US, and the UK. She has published three books of poetry with Guernica Editions: Birdheart (2001), Mask (2003), and You Speak to Me in Trees (2006)—a finalist for the 2007 Acorn-Plantos Award for People’s Poetry and winner of the 2008 F.G. Bressani Prize for Poetry. She is also co-author, with the late Malca Litovitz, of Slow Dancing: Creativity and Illness, Duologue and Rengas (Guernica, 2008). Implicate Me, a collection of short essays on poems by Greater Toronto Area poets is forthcoming in 2009. Elana has taught English as a Second Language at York University in Toronto and English for Academic Purposes at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She currently divides her time between editing, writing, and facilitating therapeutic art.
Questions & Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
There was a time when love and death intersected and I was overcome with a passion that needed to be both released and contained. I made a decision at that time to channel my chaos into poetic discipline.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
Inspiration comes by looking closely, seeing deeply, reading (and misreading) the work of other poets, living my life, thinking and feeling. Inspiration comes even through sleep and dreaming. Poetry, for me, is linked to an open way of being in the world—so inspiration can come from anywhere, at any time.
What is your writing process?
Sometimes a poem ‘comes in’ all-of-a-piece from a mysterious place. But this is rare. Mostly it’s a process of crafting the raw material that issues in from looking, seeing, reading, living, thinking, dreaming, being.
What is your revision/editing process?
I am a constant tinkerer and critic. I revise every poem many times, often even after it’s published.
Did you write poetry in high school? If yes, how did you get started? If no, why not?
I wrote intermittently in high school, but was not particularly drawn to poetry during these years. I was more preoccupied with reading, acting, dancing, painting, and playing the piano (which I’ve since given up).
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
There are a number of excellent practical guides to writing poetry that I have found useful over the years. I would recommend Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, Robert Pinsky’s The Sounds of Poetry, and Molly Peacock’s How to Read a Poem and Start a Poetry Circle. I have a book forthcoming with Guernica Editions, titled Implicate Me: Short Essays on Reading Contemporary Poems. This is a collection of thirty-three essays on poems by Greater Toronto Area poets that presents the richness and possibility of the close reading; I hope it’ll be useful for the beginning poet and appealing to the more seasoned writer too.
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
Read deeply and diligently, and read aloud. Really look, really listen, and really read. Find a mentor—a poet whose voice speaks to you, and make that mentor your study.