25th Trillium Award

The Gutter Series: Between Projects, Poetry Edition with Carolyn Smart

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Carolyn Smart

In celebration of National Poetry Month, Open Book is launching a new series — The Gutter Series: Between Books, Poetry Edition. (The gutter, as any good book geek knows, refers to the inner margins of two facing pages — literally, the in-between.)

Writing a book is a lengthy process and even the most prolific authors need time to work. We rarely have a chance to chat with writers who haven't published in the current season, and we're curious about life between launches.

Kingston poet Carolyn Smart is the author of five books of poetry and the memoir At the End of the Day (Penumbra Press). Her most recent collection was Hooked — Seven Poems, published by Brick Books in 2009.

Carolyn talks to Open Book about stumbling across project ideas, celebrating the publication of her first book and working as a poet and creative writing professor.

Open Book:

Where do you look for new project ideas? What is one of the most surprising places you've found inspiration?

Carolyn Smart:

I am usually completely absorbed in whatever project I am working on at the time and don't consider what might come next until well after the final editing of the manuscript is completed. Once that happens, I feel oddly transparent, porous, a little vulnerable, and very much open to suggestion. I look everywhere. Part of my daily routine is walking in the woods that surround my house in eastern Ontario and I spend a great deal of time just looking and listening. I love to travel, watch a lot of films and read voraciously. Ideas can come from most anywhere: I found the inspiration for Hooked from reading obituaries; it was a book review I read while travelling in Provence that provided me with the inspiration for my latest poems, a manuscript I'm calling Careen that I've just submitted to a publisher.


Do you celebrate when your books come out? How did you celebrate the first time, with Swimmers in Oblivion (York Publishing)?


My first collection of poems came out in 1981 and the night I received the books my roommate and I decided to celebrate by going out to a restaurant. We really splashed out and went to the Three Small Rooms that night, displaying the book on the dinner table during our meal. A couple at the next table introduced themselves and we talked about the writing process. I had a more formal book launch a month or so later, reading with Irving Layton and Joy Kogawa. I was one lucky young woman to launch her first book in such august and generous company.


Do you have a day job? If so, do you find it helping or hindering your writing? How do you balance writing with other professional pursuits?


I have taught Creative Writing at Queen's since 1989, and although I find I can't do much of my own writing while I teach, I've found that compartmentalising my creative life works successfully for me. I write like a fiend in the summers, seeing hardly anyone, walking with my dogs, dreaming. Teaching feeds me in different ways, though, and I am very connected to my students who offer renewed energy and excitement each term.


What would your ideal writing environment look like?


I think I am lucky enough to live in my ideal environment for writing. I have peace, quiet, and a view of the cedar bush where occasionally deer and the rare timber wolf run past. I have a big wide desk littered with papers and journals, and overflowing bookcases nearby. Behind me when I sit at my desk I have an ever-increasing collection of houseplants, and the seedlings I'm tending for this year's garden.


What's up next for you?


I can't think further than more editing of Careen, but that's a process I love almost as much as the first draft. To work with an outstanding editor (as I've been lucky enough to do with my two previous collections published by Brick Books) is an incomparable creative experience.

Carolyn Smart's collections of poetry have been Swimmers in Oblivion (York Publishing, 1981), Power Sources (Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1982), Stoning the Moon (Oberon Press, 1986), The Way to Come Home (Brick Books, 1993) and Hooked — Seven Poems (Brick Books, 2009). Her memoir, At the End of the Day, was published by Penumbra Press in 2001, and an excerpt won first prize in the 1993 CBC Literary Contest. She has taught poetry at the Banff Centre and participated online for Writers in Electronic Residence. She is the founder of the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, and since 1989 has been Professor of Creative Writing at Queen's University. She has recently completed a manuscript of poetry entitled Careen.

For more information about her most recent book, Hooked, please visit the Brick Books website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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