Deborah Schnitzer

I am a professor and 3M Teaching Fellow in the English Department at The University of Winnipeg, Director of The Institute of Literacy and Transformative Learning at The Global College, and founding member of ACT (A Centre for Transformation), a popular and activist education centre in Manitoba. I am most recently out and about in the novel gertrude unmanageable and have new novel, a`rose, forthcoming from Turnstone Press. As an editor, I have helped to create, two collections, Uncommon Wealth: An Anthology of Poetry in English and The Madwoman in the Academy: 43 Women Boldly Take on the Ivory Tower. My first chapbook, Black Beyond Blue, was followed by the long poem, lovinggertrudestein Loving Gertrude, and I’ve written poetry and prose for collections concerned with social justice, transformative learning, and women’s lives, such as Dropped Threads: Holes in the DiscourseChildren Of The Shoah: Holocaust Literature and Education,  Story After Story: canadians bend bound theology and READ THIS! Why Books Matter. As well, I’ve collaborated with Shelagh Carter, providing text and voice for the experimental short film rifting/blue and worked with women activists in the Sacred Wed Society to create We Are the Land We Sing. With Shelagh, I am preparing two short, experimental films, resolve and canoe, which will be released in the fall of 2009. I am interested in fairness, kindness, and creativity and devoted to the transformative power of the whimsical, the ‘what if,’ and the ‘why not.’

Questions & Answers

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

I think I have always been fascinated by the sound of words, delighting in improvisational rifts, curious about inner rhythms, and certain from a young age that words/forms had something inexhaustible to offer in terms of play-ability, implication, depth.

How/where do you find inspiration today?

Usually there’s just something that sticks inside—an idea, a phrase—a combination of words I hear that wakes me up such that I feel I have to test where I might be led. I can be inspired by external realities, but most often there’s a readiness within that comes calling from ideas/experiences/events/suggestions I’ve stored. Often, I can only discover the way in which they have been secreted if I initiate a free-write process, taking up the scent of the phrase, riding its curve and energy.

What is your writing process?

At this point, I do most of my composing on the computer. My mother was a very gifted pianist, and while that gift didn’t find its way through me, (rats), at the computer keyboard I feel as if I am playing a musical instrument. I keep a journal and often record observations, insights, references, maybe a lead into something I might try out later, but when I want to actually engage, for the most part, I need to be at the keyboard—watching a line unfold, talking with it, listening to the rhythms of the keys themselves as I uncover where I’m going. It sounds mystical/intuitive and I think it is. I am all for being transported, hopeful that I’ll be carried by a hunch whose resources I want to pay attention to because there are surprises—the emergence of values, combinations, insights—I trust can be found.

What is your revision/editing process?

I let a piece sit for a while. I stay away from it and then I approach it again and again, because it takes a long time to cook the ‘final’ form (it is never finished… never final except insofar as it might have found a published place and so within that specific context it rests—but if I re-read it there, I am all for further revision, hoping that it can be more seaworthy). I’ve learned how important revision and editing is. It takes a long time to see where the needless repetitions might be, discern what can be carved away so that the piece stands with greater intensity. More and more, I work with the placement of words on the page. There are so many adjustments that are possible; it takes time to understand which might hold the most promise/power. I read with others—a really important thing to do—so many more options are revealed: a possibility sharpened; a line trimmed; a reference uncovered so that it can have the impact it needs; an assumption named so that I can reconsider what I need to bring in, what I have to let go of… That back and forth with other writers is exciting and critical. And in providing suggestions to members of the writing group, let’s say, I understand more clearly how I read, what I need, what I might do, where my ideas intersect…

Did you write poetry in high school? If yes, how did you get started? If no, why not?

I wrote poetry… often times because a language arts teacher asked us to, but also because I was inspired by certain lyrics and wanted to see what I was thinking. I remember being particularly intrigued by Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell—they were twisting and teasing—bending clichés, taking risks, bringing in all kinds of contexts so that the individual story they were telling reverberated with other references, points of view, political, cultural and social realities that I was aching to name/discover.

Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?

I read poetry and poetics, so think that a contemporary Canadian journal like Contemporary Verse 2 would be exciting to explore. As well, connecting with mentoring opportunities provided by Writers Guilds, Writing Retreat and Writer-in-Residence programs, participating in spoken word events and writing groups build our practices and senses of creative identity/community. And reading poetry—lots and lots of poetry—in collections, for example, the bring in canonical works and set them beside poetry written in place and by people who have not traditionally been included in established traditions.

When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?

It would have been thrilling. I lived in a small town and we didn’t ever have that experience. There were probably poets within our community, but nothing was ever said and their work was never represented to us. To have had access to their practice—hearing them read and discuss their creative processes, having the chance to be mentored, participating in workshops, being part of a writing group—well that would have opened up the world as—if not more compellingly—than the poems on paper we read in texts.

Works by Deborah Schnitzer

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Poetry by Deborah Schnitzer

Book Reviews of Deborah Schnitzer's Works