Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Poets in Profile: Marilyn Gear Pilling

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Marilyn Gear Pilling

Celebrate National Poetry Month and find out what inspires, confounds and delights today's Canadian poets by following our Poets in Profile series. Today, Hamilton poet Marilyn Gear Pilling, also the president of the Hamilton Poetry Centre, tells us about the experience that led her to become a poet, the Robert Louis Stevenson poem that affected her as a child and the Toronto bathroom that unexpectedly inspired her poetry writing.

Marilyn’s newest poetry collection is A Bee Garden, which has just been released by Cormorant Books.

Open Book:

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

Marilyn Gear Pilling:

Twenty years ago, while working at the Hamilton Public Library, I would notice that something called the Hamilton Poetry Centre met in one of the rooms. I would walk by the room and look in, and one Thursday night, I sidled in, wishing I were invisible, thinking “who do you think you are?” with a poem about my hairdresser in hand. If John Ferns, who was then in charge of the workshops, had been negative about that poem, I would have decided on the spot that I could never be a writer, and I would not have returned. Such was the fragility of my faith. I think about that a lot, now that I’m president of the Hamilton Poetry Centre. How to know when a person needs encouragement and when a person is ready to hear what could be improved. A mistake could mean that a person never goes on to live a life that gives him the deepest satisfaction he or she has known.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


My mother would read aloud from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. I asked repeatedly for the poem “Windy Nights.” The last two lines especially amazed me: “By at the gallop he goes and then/by he comes back at the gallop again.” How words could sound like a galloping horse.


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


Robert Hass’ “Regalia for a Black Hat Dancer.” Or Louise Gluck’s “Eros.” Or Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium.” Or Philip Larkin’s “Wedding Wind." Did you say one?


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


The bathroom ceiling of a Toronto hotel on Jarvis Street. For some reason known only to That Which Is Beyond Human Apprehension, I tilted my head back while sitting on the toilet inside one of the many stalls in this large bathroom, and saw that the ceiling was a mirror. A black-toned mirror. As I stared upward, I saw this row of Stygian figures, bent to their work, heads bowed. Only the fool in the third stall was looking where angels fear to fly. Right now, I’m thinking, “What if one of the Stygian figures had looked up and seen me looking? We might both have been turned to pillars of salt.”


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


I save them in a file named “Failed Poems — to be looked at one year from now,” and never look at them again.


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


Robert Hass’ The Apple Trees at Olema. Jack Gilbert’s Collected. Patrick Lane’s Collected. Tony Hoagland’s What Narcissism Means to Me. I like guys. Seriously, it’s what has lately knocked off my mismatched socks.


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


The best thing about being a poet is how time disappears into eternity when you’re writing something that’s working.

The worst thing about being a poet is you have to be careful never to say you are a poet because people think that you mean the kind of verse that is in Hallmark cards and then they say, “I write poetry too,” and whip out a poem that begins, “Roses are red.”

The other worst thing about being a poet is that I want to be a writer of fiction and creative non-fiction too, and both have been getting the shreds of my attention since I got more serious about poetry. SIGH. O That Which Is Beyond Human Apprehension — please let me live to be 100 this time, and please grant me two more lives of reading and writing after that.

Marilyn Gear Pilling lives in Hamilton, Ontario and has roots in Huron County. She is the author of two collections of short fiction and four of poetry. A finalist for the CBC Literary Awards and the Western Magazine Awards, she has won nine Hamilton and Region Arts Council awards for her poetry and short fiction. Most recently, one of her poems won Descant’s “Best Canadian Poem” Winston Collins Award and appeared in Best Canadian Poetry in English, 2010. Pilling has read her work in many venues, including Eden Mills, Harbourfront, the Banff Centre in Alberta, and at the historic Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris, France.

For more information about A Bee Garden please visit the Cormorant Books website.

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

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