25th Trillium Award

Poets in Profile: Deanna Young

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Deanna Young

Find out what inspires, confounds and delights today's Canadian poets by following our Poets in Profile series. In today's feature, Deanna Young tells us about her love of words, playing Scrabble with her mother and poetry that has sent her swooning.

Deanna will read at The Carleton Tavern, as part of The Factory Reading Series, with Michael Blouin (Ottawa) and Robin K. Macdonald (Gatineau Hills) on Friday, February 17. Find out more on our Events page.

Open Book:

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

Deanna Young:

My mother unknowingly instilled in me a love of words. There was certainly not any poetry in our house, but she enjoyed words in an everyday way. She did not take them for granted. She?d do crosswords, show delight in new words she learned, chuckle at the absurdity of common sayings?so that they became alive again for a moment. She?d crack words open, look inside, see what they were made of, marvel at them. This made me pay attention too and appreciate language. I?m sure I fell in love with words while playing Scrabble with my mother. I just loved the look of them laying there on the board, interconnecting, winning points.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


Alden Nowlan?s ?Britain Street.? It was in Mr. Underhill?s Grade 11 English class, in London, Ontario, in a portable at the end of a football field. The portable door was propped open, the pungent smell of torn-up turf wafting in, and he held up a worn copy of 15 Canadian Poets Plus 5, like a circuit rider might hold up a bible, and intoned, "This is a street at war. / The smallest children / battle with clubs / till the blood comes, / shout 'fuck you!' / like a rallying cry-- //". I was startled, instantly hooked. By the end of the poem, the top of my head was tingling and I thought, Wow, I want to do that?write like that. Whatever Nowlan had achieved in that poem, I wanted to try to do it too.


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


Jon Stallworthy?s ?The Almond Tree??although I would not have wanted the experience that was the catalyst for the poem. In it, the speaker is heading to the hospital to meet his newborn son, but when he gets there he learns that the child has Down?s Syndrome. It?s about how he absorbs this news and how he feels afterwards, heading home again. The poem is beautiful, heart breaking, as close to perfect as anything I?ve read.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


Sorry, I got nothin?. In my view, there isn?t anything that is an unlikely source of inspiration for a poem. I?ve looked through my books and my new poems and every single subject seems absolutely worthy. An arena, a moth, a suitcase, a ferry ride, a trailer for a horror flick?aren?t they all majestic in some way?


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


First, I go through it ruthlessly highlighting the weak, uncourageous parts. Then I leave it alone for a while (a day, a week, a month), and try to come back to it with less attachment and no mercy. If I still can?t make it come alive, due to my own failure to focus or face the truth or dig or let go or whatever it needs, I delete the draft.


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


The American poet Franz Wright?s Earlier Poems. It?s tremendously dark, haunting, gorgeous. I especially love the poems in the first section, from his 1982 collection The One Whose Eyes Open When You Close Your Eyes.


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


The best thing is the close friendship with Truth. I mean it. When I?m writing a poem I?m trying to get at some truth, just as I am, often, when talking with a very close friend. When it works, it?s marvelous. The worst thing is having to choose between doing what you love and earning a decent living. (Did you ever notice how there?s only one letter separating poetry from poverty?)

Deanna Young is the author of two books of poetry, The Still Before a Storm, (Moonstone Press, 1984) and Drunkard?s Path (Gaspereau Press, 2001), as well as a new chapbook from above/ground press, Mediterraneo. She is currently completing her third full-length collection of poems, Knowledge from a Previous Life. Her poetry, fiction and non-fiction have been published widely in literary journals in Canada and aired on CBC Radio. She lives in Ottawa.

For more information about Mediterraneo please visit the above/ground press website.

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

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