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Poets in Profile: Marilyn Irwin

Marilyn Irwin

Find out what inspires, confounds and delights today's Canadian poets by following our Poets in Profile series.

Marilyn Irwin, here today as our latest poet in profile, is a relative newcomer to Canada's literary scene, having her first chapbook in 2010. She has been rising quickly, however, ever since her self-published initial offering was picked up by rob mclennan's well-known above/ground press. Today she is here to talk to us about what she thinks about Sarah Mangold, what inspires her writing and what she does when a poem just isn't working out.

Marilyn's second chapbook, flicker, will be launched alongside new chapbooks by Cameron Anstee, Stephen Brockwell, and Amanda Earl on August 9th as part of above/ground press’ 19th anniversary celebrations, at The Mercury Lounge in Ottawa.

Open Book:

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

Marilyn Irwin:

Not exactly in that I’m not sure at what point I became a poet, if I am a poet. What makes a poet? I write poetry, therefore I am...a poet? I have always written. I could conclude that a lot of my earlier writings stemmed from journal entries; pages and pages of stream of consciousness bleeding, and the evolving desire to summarize, make sense in/of a nonsensical world.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


Robert Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee. I was about ten. When I learned the meaning of the word “cremation,” things happened in my little head. The musicality of the verses juxtaposed with the haunting subject matter; the stark, beautiful descriptions of the North and the sheer madness of the tale have stayed with me since.

As a writer, the first poem that affected me was P. K. Page’s Adolescence, which I spent a few of my high school years attempting to emulate in an effort to distance myself from my ballad rhyme scheme mentality.


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


This question makes me feel wrong.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


My memories. I have a strange, selective, ever-shifting memory; constellations.


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


I inspect it until something hurts. From there, it goes to bed. For various reasons, I may revisit after a day or a coffee or a year. Or not. Or I amalgamate with a similar one. Or I make it go away.


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


Sarah Mangold’s Household Mechanics was a fascinating read. Her restrained style; everything that was and wasn’t, between carefully selected pauses. It’s one of the few books I’ve read where the subject particulars of a given poem seemed irrelevant at times because the theme and the lines of the whole felt so interchangeable, congruous.


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


Writing in general is very cathartic. Putting something out into the world and the notion that it may elicit an intellectual or emotional response, inspire or provide a different lens with which to see the world and the bits it contains is a very rewarding concept.

Shifting priorities to make time for writing and adhering to some sort of consistent writing schedule are what I find most challenging. Writing if and when I can as opposed to all day long prevents me from giving my poems (and all that entails) my full attention. But, one must eat.


Marilyn Irwin partook in two of Ottawa poet rob mclennan’s poetry workshops in 2010, and graduated from Algonquin College’s Creative Writing Certificate Program this Spring.

Marilyn's first chapbook, for when you pick daisies, was self-published in 2010, and was immediately re-issued by above/ground press. Extrapolated fragments of her musings can be found in issues of Bywords, Bywords Quarterly Journal, ottawater and Peter F. Yacht Club.

The chapbook is available via above/ground press. You can also buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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