Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Poets in Profile: Anne Simpson

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Open Book is celebrating National Poetry Month with daily profiles of today's "unacknowledged legislators of the world." Find out what inspires, confounds and delights the poets behind this spring's new releases by following our series.

The wait for the new work by award-winning poet Anne Simpson — whose resonant lyric voice is never afraid to experiment — is over. With the simply titled Is (McClelland & Stewart), Anne Simpson turns to the cell for inspiration: a world within a world within a world. As with previous collections, she "turns our attention to the sharp edges of life," (Canadian Literature) with poems that spin and unravel like the double helix of our DNA.

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Anne Simpson:

I think that it may have been meeting Bronwen Wallace when I was a grad student in Kingston, Ontario. I’d go to her house from time to time to talk about poems with a group of others. She’d show us work she’d done, too, wanting our comments; she really wanted to improve. By this time she had published quite a few books, and so I was struck by how open she was, how willing to learn.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


It might have been Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, but I’m not sure. My mother read so much to us when we were young.


What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?


I revel in poems of all kinds; I’m grateful they’re in the world. (It doesn’t matter to me who came up with the poem.) Anne Carson’s work makes me want to write; it’s very generative. Most good poetry does that. I simply want to write. Lately, I’ve been thinking of a particular poem by Yehuda Amichai, “Now, When the Waters Are Pressing Mightily” — this poem seems so relevant in light of what has happened in Japan.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


I don’t think there are unlikely sources of inspiration. But a combination of things might appear unlikely to someone else: certain etchings by Betty Goodwin made me think of a flood, and because of that odd and vivid connection, I was able to write some poems.


What do you do with a poem that just isn't working?


I save all sorts of scraps. The scraps don’t become poems, but occasionally an idea — from a poem that didn’t work — finds its way into a poem that does work.


What was the last book of poetry you read that really knocked your socks off?


A friend loaned me a book, Selected Poems of Su Tung-p’o (Copper Canyon Press, 1993), that I’ve been reading and re-reading. It’s wonderful. And I just bought John Steffler’s Lookout (McClelland & Stewart, 2010), but haven’t had time to read it yet.


What is the best thing about being a poet…and what is the worst?


To enter poetry: to read it, and sometimes, to write it — who could ask for more?

Anne Simpson is the author of three books of poetry, Light Falls Through You, winner of the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the Atlantic Poetry Prize; Loop, winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize and a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry; and, most recently, Quick. Her first novel, Canterbury Beach, was shortlisted for the Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award. In 1997 her short story “Dreaming Snow” shared the Journey Prize, and in 1999 she was awarded the Bliss Carman Poetry Award. Simpson lives in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, where she helped establish the Writing Centre at St. Francis Xavier University.

For more information about Is please visit the McClelland & Stewart website.

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

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