A widely published writer, for many years Torontonian Susan Ioannou also worked as Associate Editor of Cross-Canada Writers’ Magazine and taught creative writing for the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies, the Ryerson Literary Society, and the Toronto Board of Education, as well as founding the online course Lessons in Writing the Poem. She is the author of the poet’s handbook A Magical Clockwork: The Art of Writing the Poem and the collection Holding True: Essays on Being a Writer (both Wordwrights Canada). Her poetry includes Clarity Between Clouds (Goose Lane Editions), Where the Lights Waits (Ekstasis Editions), and Coming Home: An Old Love Story (Leaf Press). Her most recent volume of poetry, Looking Through Stone: Poems about the Earth (Your Scrivener Press), is a unique celebration of geology, metals, minerals, and mining history. Her poems have inspired music by Norwegian composer Gjermund Andreassen and Canadian Leslie Uyeda. Links to more of her poems and further information about her can be found at http://www3.sympatico.ca/susanio/.
Questions & Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
I didn’t start out as a poet. Excited by detective programs on the radio, as soon as I could spell enough words phonetically (by grade two), I pencilled my own boisterous stories. My later, elementary school poems arose from listening also. My father often recited aloud from a book of comic verse he and a friend had translated. My rhymes were composed for family occasions, such as Mother’s Day or my father’s birthday. It wasn’t until my teens that poetry overtook fiction as my main pursuit.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
With age, my poems have grown meditative. More and more, I believe the Muse whispers the words of the first drafts in my ear—but only when she deems fit.
What is your writing process?
Especially when my children were young, my early published poetry was rooted in the details of everyday life. I wrote simply what I saw or experienced and how I felt about it. My 2007 book Looking Through Stone: Poems about the Earth was very different. For ten years, I read widely and made detailed notes about geology, metals, minerals, and mining history. Whenever I discovered a fascinating detail that fired my imagination, I attempted to build a poem around it. The challenge was to blend scientific fact and folklore into a coherent and unified collection of poems that both informed and were artistically pleasing.
What is your revision/editing process?
Nowadays, once I have “caught” the Muse’s whispers on paper, I don’t trust my eyes. Over and over, I reread the lines both silently and out loud. Every time I sense a lump, I know something is wrong. I try to figure out what. Is it a sound that conflicts with the mood I want to fashion? Is the rhythm off balance? Does an image veer from the truth of what I want to say? After I think I’ve pinpointed and fixed the problem, I reread again. Yet another lump appears, in the same or the next line. I try to figure out and fix it too, careful not to distort my original meaning as I shift words around. After several hours work, I put the poem away for a few days. When I come back with fresh eyes and ears, to my astonishment and dismay more lumps surface. The process goes on and on, day after day, until months later I believe all the lumps have been ironed out, and at last the poem both sounds right and is true to what I meant.
Did you write poetry in high school? If yes, how did you get started? If no, why not?
As well as rhymed verse to amuse my father, I wrote my first serious high school poems to release my feelings about a confusing period in my life.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
The League of Canadian Poets’ website www.youngpoets.ca offers encouragement and much valuable information and advice for student writers. Wordwrights Canada provides another writers’ website www.wordwrights.ca offering books, an online course, and a page of Canadian Student Writing Resources. In my own poetry, to get the right combination of meaning and sound, I rely on Collins Ringbinder Thesaurus and Whitfield’s University Rhyming Dictionary.
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
I was lucky: an older family friend was a published writer. When I showed her my youthful poems, she told me what she liked about them, and I felt validated. However, she also encouraged me to move beyond my own inward-gaze and look at the wider world around me as a subject for my writing. In other words, she pointed out the next step on a lifelong path.
MLA: Ioannou, Susan. CanLit Poets: Susan Ioannou. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 21 Apr. 2010. Web. 20 Dec. 2014.