Sharon Thesen is a B.C.-based poet and editor. Her eighth and most recent book of poems, The Good Bacteria, was published by Anansi in 2006 and was a finalist for the Governor-General’s award, the Dorothy Livesay Award, the Pat Lowther Award, and the ReLit Award. Other books and chapbooks include Weeping Willow (Nomados); From Toledo (Gorse Press); the Pat Lowther Award-winning A Pair of Scissors (Anansi); and a selected poems, News & Smoke (Talon Books). Thesen is the editor of The New Long Poem Anthology (Talon Books) and, with Ralph Maud, Charles Olson and Frances Boldereff: A Modern Correspondence. She edited The Capilano Review from 2001-2004 while teaching at Capilano College in North Vancouver. She now lives in Lake Country near Kelowna, B.C. and teaches in the Department of Creative Studies at UBC Okanagan where she co-edits LAKE: a journal of arts and environment.
Questions & Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
Maybe it was when I read Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl” in the library of Prince George Senior Secondary School in 1963.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
If I knew where to find inspiration in advance, I mean real inspiration, I’d never leave that place! Inspiration comes sporadically and fleetingly—from a book, a phrase I’ve heard, a gut feeling. Sometimes the inspiration doesn’t come until I’ve written a few pages. Sometimes some energy can come from a walk outdoors or from playing the piano or making a cup of coffee, but true inspiration is a rare thing.
What is your writing process?
I’m always thinking about writing but my process, like my inspiration, is sporadic. I write in bursts, fits, and starts. And then I don’t write for quite long periods.
What is your revision/editing process?
I tend to write a first draft on paper, then transfer it to the computer, revising as I go along. Or sometimes I write directly onto the computer screen, save it, and then revise again on the screen. Then I print it, and put it away for a few weeks. When I re-read it at that point I either throw it away or re-work it, or just leave it as it is.
Did you write poetry in high school? If yes, how did you get started? If no, why not?
Yes, I wrote poems when I was in high school. Not at home, but when I was babysitting. I’d sit at the Formica table after the kids I was babysitting were in bed. I’d have brought books by T.S. Eliot and Why I am Not A Christian by that British philosopher whose name I forget now, and write T.S. Eliot-ish poems, very brooding and solemn and heavy-hearted. I just started doing it. There was no encouragement or classes or anything like that.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
For a young writer, I’d suggest finding a copy of What It Is by Lynda Barry. I wish I’d had access to a book like that when I was young. I’d also like to suggest that students watch videos or DVDs of writers reading, talking, and/or performing their work. There are video and DVD series available from the library (e.g. Heart of Poet, Writers’ Confessions, etc. which are Canadian, and the Lannan Series of videos of American poets and writers.) I’d also recommend the documentary Slam Nation.
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
I’m not sure if anything a published poet could swoop in and say about my efforts would necessarily be all that helpful. Maybe more helpful is the young writer’s efforts to find his or her own mentors and/or a congenial writing group of peers.