Deirdre Dwyer

Deirdre Dwyer is the author of two poetry collections: The Breath that Lightens the Body (Beach Holme, 1999) and Going to the Eyestone (Wolsak & Wynn, 2002.) She studied at Dalhousie University, The University of Windsor, and at the Banff School of Fine Arts. She has taught at Dalhousie University and Mount Saint Vincent University. At present she is Coordinator of the Musquodoboit Harbour Farmers’ Market. She lives on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia with her husband Hans, and Molly, their Golden Retriever.

Questions & Answers

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

I started writing poetry in grades 5 or 6 when my English teacher introduced the class to the haiku. I was and am still astounded by the form’s brevity, imagery, metaphor, and wit.

How/where do you find inspiration today?

I am inspired by nature, by a strong sense of place, by particular images, and by a sense of story.

What is your writing process?

A poem can start with a line, an image, or set of images, with an interesting photograph, with a story or fragment of story, or with an idea that I need to work out. I usually write a number of drafts by hand, and only when the poem is closer to being finished do I type it up on the computer. The poem goes through an extensive revision/editing process.

What is your revision/editing process?

I don’t think I have any standard revision or editing process. For the early drafts of a poem, I use a method that W.O. Mitchell called Mitchell’s Messy Method; some know it as freefall, and others might call it free writing. It is a kind of brainstorming around the images, ideas, and thoughts connected to what the poem started with, and then I hone the poem from there, trying to clarify the images, ideas, and thoughts, so that they gel into a finished poem.

I also meet with a group of poets, which has been meeting for over 13 years. We bring copies of our poems to a workshop and critique each other’s work to help the poet improve the poem. There are about 10 poets in the group, but the numbers fluctuate. I also might add that our opinions can differ: one poet may suggest something, while another poet can totally disagree.

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

As I mentioned above, I started writing in grades 5 or 6. When I was in high school, I read more poetry, and was particularly inspired by the work of Gwendolyn MacEwen. I carried one of her books with me everywhere, and even though I may not have understood (probably didn’t understand!) every poem, I was mesmerized by the sounds of the poems.

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

I would suggest that young poets read a wide variety of poets, go to local poetry readings to hear what poets are doing and saying, experiment in a number of forms, and connect with local writers’ groups to find out about workshops in their area. I would also suggest experimenting with fiction, non-fiction, children’s writing, and other forms of art to see how those kinds of writing and artforms are different and similar to poetry, or complement it. Lastly, I suggest that young poets should read a number of books about writing and art. One book that I recommend is Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, published by Shambhala.

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

I just opened Natalie Goldberg’s book and read that we learn writing by doing it. Writing is a practice; that’s why many writers say they write everyday and that writers should write everyday. We learn technique by practising technique, so go out there and practise. Don’t expect brilliance on every page, but the more you write, the more chance that you will find something you are looking for and that you can try using the techniques that will help you improve your writing.

Works by Deirdre Dwyer