Susan Andrews Grace lives in Nelson, British Columbia where she writes and teaches creative writing and also maintains a visual art practice. Her latest books of poems is Philosopher at the Skin Edge of Being, available through Signature Editions.
Ferry Woman’s History of the World (Coteau Books 1998) won the Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award and was short-listed for three other Saskatchewan literary awards. Other books published are Water is the First World (Coteau Books 1991) and Wearing My Father, a chapbook, (Underwhich Editions 1990). She has received grants from the Canada Council, Saskatchewan Arts Board and the BC Arts Council. She holds a BA in Philosophy and an MFA in Creative Writing, Poetry. Her poems have been published in literary periodicals and anthologies in Canada, USA, England and India.
Susan Andrews Grace has taught at Oxygen Art Centre (aka Nelson Fine Art Centre), Kootenay School of the Arts, and before that at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She has been writer in residence in many elementary and secondary schools in Saskatchewan. She has exhibited artworks in Canada and USA over the last twenty-five years.
Questions & Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
It was when I was in grade twelve. I was at the New Westminster public library listening to a recording of Dylan Thomas reading his poetry and from his play for voices, “Under Milk Wood.” It was the first time I had “heard” the music of language in poetry. Although I’d secretly always wanted to write I had no idea that I would want to write poetry. I’d never seen a poem I liked until that day at the library but I had heard one. After that I began to look for poems that I could “hear.” It took another ten years or so before I totally accepted the fact that I seemed to be a poet and began to work with it.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
Inspiration is everywhere. I try to be aware of everything around me and that is how the poems find me. Where I have found inspiration: my children, cloth, ideas, grasses, human bodies, deserts, mountains, plains, poetry which delves into idea and ordinary things like the patterns of fallen leaves and stems on the sidewalks in autumn in Nelson. Sometimes even a word can be an inspiration. When I found the word ‘lacustral’ I wanted to write a poem that used it. I have written a few and I still love the word. It means lake-ness. It is said that the difference between a poet and a mystic is that the poet loves the world too much. What I love has been a great inspiration for me.
What is your writing process?
I like to write in the early morning. I write first drafts longhand in a notebook, along with notes about what I was thinking and what I was reading. Since I mostly write serial poems these days, I usually wait until I am somewhat sure of where I am going with the poem before I start to type it. After it’s on the computer, I begin to revise.
What is your revision/editing process?
I revise in a few ways. When the poetry is new and before the serial poem is complete I revise by taking away what is excess and expanding on what is not well developed. Editing more or less. When the poem is completed, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to add much more to it, I begin to look at the whole poem. I’ve usually let it rest for a while (six months to a year) before I begin that process, so I can re-see it clearly. Then I begin a re-vision, a re-thinking of the thinking that got me that far. That is when I start going back into the ideas of the poem and making sure that they are coherent, that they are gounded in real things. I look to see what kind of narrative arc there is in the long poem and what sense the individual pieces make because they do need to stand on their own as well. And when that is done I do more editing, looking at line breaks, stanza breaks, further tightening of the language. Through all these processes I read the work aloud, which is, I think, one of the best editing devices there is.
Did you write poetry in high school? If yes, how did you get started? If no, why not?
I did write poetry in high school but always tore it up in case someone saw it. It seemed something entirely necessary to my existence, although at the time I didn’t recognize what I was doing as poetry, especially not poetry anyone else would read. I was writing it out of necessity but not to share.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
I think anything can be a resource, as long as it interests you intensely. I know poets who have written about vegetables, marshmallows, Arnold Schwarzenegger, elephants, Alfred Hitchcock and many other things. Apart from that, use of the dictionary and thesaurus, with close attention to the history of words is very rich and rewarding for those writing poetry. And of course reading poetry, everything from early English, poetry in other languages, translated and not, to the work of contemporaries. Interlibrary loan is a wonderful resource for people who do not live close to large libraries. Many ancient texts which used to be unavailable to ordinary people are now available online.
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
Remember that there are many ways to write poetry and that reading as widely as possible will help you to find what you love. I think it’s important that poetry is meant for the ear as much as the page. Once you find the poetry you love, I think it is safe to say, you will know how and what you want to write.
And childhood is the jewel we all have in our memory bank. The mother of the muses was memory. Whether it was a so-called ‘good childhood’ or not, childhood will be a deep well to draw from.