Adrienne Weiss lives in Toronto. She is the author of the poetry collection Awful Gestures (Insomniac, 2001). Her work has appeared in Hart House Review, Canadian Literature, Kiss Machine, Taddle Creek, and Matrix. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in English at York University.
Questions & Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
No specific moment, no. I was always someone who just liked writing down things: ideas, observations, phrases, dreams. I also liked the idea that you could tell a story in a short amount of space, in a condensed form.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
Inspiration can come from anywhere you want it to, wherever you choose to place yourself. For me, inspiration is work. I have to keep on working, reading, living, listening, observing.
What is your writing process?
I’d like to say I have one, but I don’t. It all depends on the individual piece. If I have a subject for a poem, I like to write/work fast, get whatever is in my head about that subject out, to deal with at a later time. I may also do research if necessary, then allow some time to form an impression of the subject before I start. In the last year, I’ve been writing monologic poems for “characters” who are, actually, real people. In order to take on “voice” I have had to take on that “character”, as though an actor preparing for a part. That’s kind of how I view my process: an actor preparing for a part.
If I’ve got nothing to start, I might try to compose a piece of automatic writing to generate ideas, then go from there. Or, I skim through my journal, note any interesting line, or impression, or feeling, and use it to get something going.
What is your revision/editing process?
Same problem! It all depends on the individual piece. I once spent nine years on one poem that I felt I couldn’t get right. Usually I like to put a first draft of a poem away, out of sight, for a period of time (and that period of time all depends on how busy I am), before returning to it with a clear head, and fresh eyes. I can always see the poem better that way. I look at line breaks, at word choice, at punctuation, at form, at intent, at feel, at how it sounds. I continue to pick at it until I decide it’s “finished”, which, of course, I never quite feel like it ever is.
It’s important too, I think, to ask questions of the poem; this can be achieved via an editor. Recently I had an editor/friend read through a manuscript; his feedback helped me to look at how an individual poem is working, whether in terms of syntax, grammar, form, or within the larger context of the manuscript in which it is playing off of other poems, other themes.
Did you write poetry in high school? If yes, how did you get started? If no, why not?
I remember keeping a journal all throughout high school—I would copy the lyrics of songs, famous quotes from artists, other people’s poems, and once in a while my own, into these journals with a kind of frenzy. I loved nothing more than staying up till 4 in the morning blasting whatever music I was into at the time through headphones, drinking cup after cup of tea or coffee, and “writing” every detail of what I thought was my exciting/boring/miserable/romantic life. How did this start? I don’t really know. I know I didn’t care much for the poetry we had to read in high school. But I did like it when we had to write our own, and share it with the class—it was thrilling. I think that sense of “thrill”, of having a place to tell my story to, helped develop my voice.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
No, no textbooks. But, I do stay informed about what is happening in Toronto’s literary world by subscribing to a listserv called “The Patchy Squirrel” which sends out a weekly email listing all literary events for the upcoming week. I also belong to several literary “groups” (whether of a particular press, for example, Coach House, or a reading series such as the Art Bar) on Facebook that send out event invitations for readings and book launches that are going on wherever: Toronto, Vancouver, Montréal.
In regards to craft, the best resources are books of poetry.
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
I would say that hearing from a live, working “poet” would have helped filter the popular mythology that surrounds the “poet” as a kind of tortured romantic. I think I fell for that myth when I was a teen, though of course I countered it as I grew up. I would have liked to hear about what it is like to work as a poet; what is the life of a poet; how does one get published, and what does it mean to be published; what should one’s expectations be in regards to the reality of publishing poetry in Canada, etc.