25th Trillium Award

Poets in Profile, with Vivian Hansen

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Vivian Hansen

Vivian Hansen is a poet and the co-founder of the Calgary Women's Writing Project. She teaches writers' workshops and is a dedicated participant in the vibrant writing community surrounding her. Her new book, A Bitter Mood of Clouds (Frontenac House), is a moving and evocative long poem that follows the life of Anne/Arne, a hermaphrodite born in Denmark who travels to Alberta where a new life may begin.

In today's Poets in Profile interview Vivian reveals the tragic moment that revealed poetry to her, and shares some of the poems that keep her singing.

Open Book:

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

Vivian Hansen:

I shot a rabbit out on the prairie. When I picked up the carcass, I saw that she was lactating. I was immensely sorrowful. My soul hurt, as I realized what I had done — destroyed baby rabbits as well as one I thought I could eat. I was a single-parent in those days, and food was hard to come by. I realized that rabbit was just like me — out foraging for her young. I wrote a poem about it — my first one beyond the teenage angst.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


"The Secret of Heather Ale", by Robert Louis Stevenson. My grade 9 teacher read it aloud to us, and I entered a different world for the space of that poem. Little did I know I would end up writing more poetry than Stevenson had ever written.


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


"Aubade" by Stephen Rowe, I always come back to, wishing I had been the one he was in love with, or wishing I could write so passionately about someone I loved. Also "Notes Toward a Lexicon of the Language of the Bear:, by Paul Vermeersch. It is daring and precocious. Love it. "The Willingness to Be Wounded," by Rachel Rose. It is an adapted glosa, so beautiful.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


A crabapple tree that went into blossom in late August because it had been pummeled by hail earlier in the spring. This was amazing to me. I didn?t think a tree could revive itself in that way, or think itself into a place of healing. All my best poems have emerged from unlikely sources. That?s what feeds the best poetry — surprises and small miracles. Getting back to that rabbit I shot — an epiphany. I would say any small thing that grabs at me, which I have to follow down the rabbit hole and see what?s there. The issues I am afraid of, the astonishment that shoots from miracle.


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


Compost it for the richness it will give me in another season.


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


Patrick Lane?s collected works. Lane always knocks my socks off, but his collected works got into my soul and showed me the path to write my next piece. I do not write like him; no one does, but his work has granted me permission as a poet to delve into crazy places of my own knowing. Also anything by Don McKay. He is a master.


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


Knowing that you have this extraordinary gift of making the most mundane things new inside a source of malleable language. You possess this strangeness in the world. The worst thing is that everyone ignores you. Or is this a good thing? If we were revered, would we write as much? I once knew an Indian man who, when he discovered I was a poet, became deferential to me. I found this uncomfortable. He explained that in India, he had sought the local poet — who was a village shaman — to give him a name for his newborn son. The poet was powerful in another culture. I find it sad that Canada does not regard its poets — arguably leaders in the environmental movement, as valid soothsayers.

Vivian Hansen is a poet and freelance writer. Her poetry, fiction and nonfiction have appeared in a wide variety of anthologies and journals with work that has encountered women's issues and the western landscape. ?She?s worked with the John Howard Society Literary Initiatives, and Inn from the Cold. Vivian was President of the Society of Poets, Bards and Storytellers. She was Associate Editor, A.S.H. (Arts, Science & Humanities Journal) Turtle Island Press, 1996-1997.

For more information about A Bitter Mood of Clouds please visit the Frontenac House website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore, online from the publisher or at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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