You can put your fingers on the feelings

like you can put your fingers into the cake or the peanut butter, when no one is looking. Or like when the light’s on in your kitchen at night, so you can’t see anyone looking if, in fact, they are.

Once your fingers are on the feelings, you may not be able to scoop them like ice cream. Instead you may ask yourself, Why have I put these here? If you can get at the feeling, it might taste like over-salted olives, or a cereal past its due date.

Press a feeling and the lid of the garbage can may click open as if its foot had been depressed. Press a feeling and there may be two mouths lidded open, each spined and stubborn. Each mawing for something remembered, something anticipated.

Questions and Answers

Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?

There isn’t a specific moment I can remember. From the time I was a young kid, I read a lot, and I wanted to be a writer. So I always wrote, and sometimes my grandparents would encourage me to enter writing contests at the public library or through the local newspaper, but I never won anything. In high school, I filled a metric tonne of journals with deeply awful poetry, stuff I submitted to literary journal contests. (I never won any of those, either—there was no Evelyn Lau teenage prodigy moment for me!) I’m pretty sure I’ve been rejected by every journal across the country. Slowly, though, I learned how better to harness the giant Godzilla-stomp emotions that drive my writing. I received my first acceptance letter in 2009 – The Antigonish Review decided to publish a couple wee short poems I’d written. I got that acceptance letter when I was on the waitlist to see if I’d get into the UBC Creative Writing MFA. I jumped up and down in my apartment in Guelph, Ontario, and got a hit of pure elation when the issue arrived in my mailbox. That first acceptance letter really encouraged to me to keep going.

For an aspiring writer, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?

Lesson one: editing is as important as writing. I know that when I was starting out, I would write a poem and feel like wow, hey, this could be contender, and I’d send it out immediately—only to realize a week or two later that the poem or poems were not quite as great as I first thought. Most poems don’t birth themselves at age 18, ready to head out into the world. The best thing you can do for yourself as a writer is to learn how to be your own best editor. One way to do this is to join a writing group, and read and edit the work of other young writers. You’ll notice that you have some of the same problems in common, you’ll figure out what you like and don’t like, you’ll get some insight into how others read your work. Eventually, you’ll learn how to turn that editorial eye onto your own work.

What inspired or motivated you to write this poem? How does/doesn’t the poem reflect this inspiration or motivation?

I mentioned Godzilla-stomp emotions earlier: “You can put your fingers on the feelings” is an exploration of sober reflection on those moments of extreme emotion, likened to the sober reflection I experience after (or during) culinary overindulgence. (That sounds classier than “binge-eating peanut butter,” doesn’t it?) If I have a secret shame—and I do, about emotional outbursts, and overindulgence—I like to daylight it. Reflect on it, shine a light on it, poke fun at myself. Ta-da, shame lessened!

What poetic techniques did you try to use in this poem? How much attention do you pay to form and metre?

Most of the poetry I write is prose poetry, and it relies heavily on colloquial language. Instead of paying attention to form and metre, I tend to pay attention to patterns of speech. That said, “You can put your fingers on the feelings” uses a bit of anaphora. It also uses second person, which I hope comes across one part direct address (Hey! You! I see you sneaking that cake!) and one part self-incrimination (the “you” is really just an “I” wearing a top hat and a fake mustache).

This poem “You can put your fingers on the feelings” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 216 (Spring 2013): 50.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.