Programmer and host for “In other words” on CKLN FM 88.1, Susan L. Helwig grew up on a farm in Grey County. She now calls Toronto home. In addition to publication credits in many literary journals and anthologies, she was awarded second prize in the 2001 Hart House Poetry Contest. She has worked as a church organist and Sunday School pianist, and is in the alto section of the Hart House Singers at the University of Toronto. Seraphim Editions of Toronto has published her first collection, Catch the Sweet.
Questions & Answers
Is there a specific moment that inspired you to pursue poetry?
In 1988, just barely on the sunny side of forty, I took a three-month creative writing course at the University of Toronto. It was a “now or never” moment in my life, as I’d dreamed of being a writer all along, but never had the courage to jump in. I’d seen too many friends and acquaintances start and then quit.
At the end of the course, which had involved only free-fall exercises up to that point, each student was instructed to bring in some of their work and read it to the class. When I read my poems, my fellow students expressed some admiration and asked me how long I’d been writing. In an now-embarrassing, hubristic moment, I stated flatly that I’d written them only as a warm-up to writing novels, as no one reads poetry any more and I certainly didn’t want to get stuck in a dead field. For that ill-considered remark, I have been punished (or perhaps blessed) with a muse who brings me only poems. No short stories. No “creative non-fiction.” And certainly no novels.
How/where do you find inspiration today?
These days, I work in the legal field four days a week, in a job I enjoy, and draw poetic nourishment from singing in a choir, walking through Toronto neighbourhoods and falling love, when time permits.
What is your writing process?
When I’m lucky enough to write a poem (my output is 1.5 poems per month—and yes, there’s a very small market for half a poem), I take it to a writers group that meets every other week and they all have a look and make suggestions and then I go home and tinker with it a bit more.
Do you use any resources that a young poet would find useful (e.g. websites, text books, etc.)?
Two resources I’ve got are singing/music and other languages. So often music can take me into a poetic space. I experience foreign languages when I travel to Europe or see a foreign film.
When you come across a new word in your reading, jot it down and look it up. It pays to add to your vocabulary. Babel Fish is a good internet resource for looking up foreign words.
When you were high school aged, what would have been helpful/motivating to hear from a published poet?
If a published poet had addressed my high school class, it would have been helpful to hear that. While having poems published in book form is perhaps the highest achievement, there are countless opportunities for poetry in every writing endeavour, in public speaking, in private journalling and even in business. Poetry can enhance, clarify and add beauty to any given field.