Anne Simpson is an artist as well as a writer. Her second book of poetry, Loop, won the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2004; it was also nominated for the Governor-General’s Award in Poetry. She has written two other books of poetry, and the most recent of these, Quick, won the Pat Lowther Award. She also writes fiction; her first novel, Canterbury Beach, came out in 2001, and her second, Falling, was published in 2008. She lives and works in northeastern Nova Scotia, where she is writing a book of essays about poetry and art.
Questions & Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
Poetry was something that became more important to me as time went on. I found that the world became enlarged in poetry—I could talk about things in a way that wasn’t like fiction (a sustained narrative), but made the attempt to capture specific moments.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
When I write poetry, it’s often because certain things have converged; that is, I might be inspired by the colour and shape of three pears on a windowsill, but there’s also something else I’ve been thinking about—a friend’s illness, for instance—and so a sense of anxiety about the friend might find its way into the same poem. So every poem, for me, is layered with several things at once. But even as I have the friend’s illness in mind, I try to concentrate on making the three pears very clear, like doing a drawing in an art class.
What is your writing process?
Writing a poem can be very speedy, but that doesn’t happen often. Usually, for me, I take a long time to think something through. I can take a year just thinking about a long poem. Then when I write it, it may come in a burst of a couple of weeks or less.
What is your revision/editing process?
There are two kinds of revising and editing, I think. The first kind of revising and editing is when I look at a poem, or a long poem, and decide what is working and what’s not working (maybe there is too much happening, for example, so it’s very cluttered). So I sort through the big things at this stage. If it’s a long poem, I usually cut bits at the beginning and at the end, which is where I might have too much “on-ramp” and “off-ramp” stuff. In other words, I might have been warming up to what I wanted to say, or I might have been trailing off, trying to get to the right ending. So I look hard at the fluff and try to get rid of it. The second kind of revising and editing is when I look very closely at each line, weighing the significance or insignificance of particular phrases, words, punctuation.
Did you write poetry in high school? If yes, how did you get started? If no, why not?
Yes, I remember writing rhyming poetry that went on and on, and mostly had to do with things like the weather. Then I wrote more sophisticated poems, or at least I thought they were sophisticated, but they weren’t, really. They contained lots of abstracts ideas. I must have had an ongoing interest in poetry, though, because I would go back to writing it again and again. And after a while, once I became a good editor of my own work, I began to write things that I could send out to literary magazines.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
The League of Canadian Poets has a good website for young poets. McClelland and Stewart has a poetry Facebook group.
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
I think that constant, voracious reading is what helps writers move from being good writers to exceptional writers. And I also think that every writer has to be his—or her—own best editor.