andrea bennett’s debut poetry book, Canoodlers, just came out with Nightwood Editions. Her writing has appeared in several literary journals and magazines across North America; her poetry has been anthologized in books from McGraw-Hill Ryerson and Ooligan Press. In 2012, she received a National Magazine Awards honourable mention in the Politics and Public Interest category. She is a contributing editor at Geist, and a former editor at Adbusters, This magazine and PRISM international. Originally from Hamilton, andrea now lives in Vancouver with her partner, Will. She is a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s MFA program in Creative Writing.
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
here 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.