Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Poets in Profile: Christine McNair

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Christine McNair (photo credit: Tracey Lynne Photography)

Ottawa poet Christine McNair is the author of Conflict (BookThug Press) and the recently released chapbook pleasantries and other misdemeanours, published with Apt. 9 Press last month. In today's edition of our Poets in Profile series, Christine tells us how escalators, storytelling and grapevine leaves sent her reeling towards poetry.

Open Book:

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

Christine McNair:

Getting my leg caught in a faulty escalator at age two. Being sent to the Peel School Board?s writer?s festival and accidentally ending up in the storyteller?s group. Grade school recess miseries when I made grapevine wreaths at the edge of the play yard. A series of influential English teachers. A predilection for sound. Exposure to good books.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


?Tam O?Shanter? recited by my very Scottish Grade 4 teacher. She pronounced my name deliciously (Chrrrrrrrrrristine!) and her recitation was the first time that I heard a poem in Scots. The rhythm and deliciousness impacted me much more than the placidity of A Child?s Garden of Verses by Stevenson — which seemed so painfully restrained in comparison. I read Alligator Pie too around the same time and liked it, but the Burns piece had a wildness to it that startled me. It was also the first time that I?d been exposed to poetry not explicitly aimed at children.


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


I?m not sure I?ve ever considered this before. What first came to mind were poems by displaced Elizabeths. ?One Art? by Elizabeth Bishop or By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart. Perhaps I wish that I had been born an Elizabeth.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


When I was young, I?d write poems based on the book titles in my father?s den. Primarily these would consist of business texts or self-improvement guides by business gurus or gift books my father had never read. I liked finding meaning in the inconsistency of the titling. There was such a lot of hope and fervent belief. I liked divorcing the title from content.


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


Leave it alone. Send it to the corner. Tear it to shreds and recycle the parts worth keeping. Try to reason with it. Burn it.


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


In the Pines by Alice Notley.


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


The best thing about being a poet is the license to wallow in reading and language. I like the perversity of the whole enterprise — all its contradictory and bombastic dire necessities. Its petty urgencies and how everything can feel like a friable edge. Reading someone else?s work and having it jolt you to the marrow. The worst bit? Hand-wringers. Complacency. An excess of theory.

Christine McNair's work has appeared in sundry places. Conflict, her first collection of poetry, was published by BookThug in 2012. Her most recent chapbook, pleasantries and other misdemeanours was published by Apt. 9 Press in Spring 2013. She works as a book doctor in Ottawa.

For more information about pleasantries and other misdemeanours and to purchase your copy, please visit the Apt. 9 Press website.

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