Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

The Proust Questionnaire, with Juleta Severson-Baker

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Juleta Severson-Baker

In her latest book of poetry, Incarnate (Frontenac House), author, performance teacher and birth doula Juleta Severson-Baker uses the body as a camera, reflecting the ways in which we connect with each other and the world around us, and the ways in which we withhold that touch. Whether artfully balancing poignancy and humour in a poem about a 40-year-old woman and the very young stranger ?working my touch screen? in ?Sometimes; from the edge of a city ? or capturing an exquisite tenderness in the final moments of a couple?s lovemaking in ?His Gentleness With Her,? Incarnate reveals an ease with the language of the body in all its expressions.

In her answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Juleta shares her love of her homespace, a flock of birds she adores and the importance of mindfulness in her life.

The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.

What is your dream of happiness?

My children becoming ethical, healthy, flourishing adults who will take time out of full lives to write their mother long, delicious letters.

What is your idea of misery?


Where would you like to live?

Exactly where I do — in this little townhouse in SW Calgary, and continuing to spend good chunks of time in our cabin at ?the farm? (a rustic property in the foothills) — but with my little townhouse suddenly being a lot cleaner, and having a proper office with a big, antique desk.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?

Being able to listen to and reflect on new ideas. Also, being playful with children.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?

Exactly the same qualities I admire most in a man — being able to listen to and reflect on new ideas. And being playful with children.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Driving a car every bloody day.

What do you value most about your friends?

Their openheartedness.

What is your favourite occupation?

Several come to mind. Running (especially through trees or near water), reading or writing poetry, listening to my son sing, watching my daughter swim, conversing with my kids about big ideas. The things that keep me utterly in the here-and-now and deeply absorbed in movement or thought.

What would you like to be?

Less fearful, less controlling and someone who found more pleasure in keeping a tidy house.

What is your favourite flower?

The peony.

What is your favourite bird?

Red-tailed hawk. No, great horned owl. No — mountain bluebird! Bohemian waxing! Harlequin duck! No! The cheeky little chickadees who will land on my hand in the forest near my house. Or maybe bank swallows. Mmmmm flickers, yes, flickers. And phoebes. Ack! I love them all. Except grackles. I hate grackles.

What historical figure do you admire the most?

Sitting Bull.

Who are your favourite prose authors?

Off the top of my mind — C.S. Lewis, Linda Hogan, Hilary Mantel, Margaret Laurence.

Who are your favourite poets?

G.M. Hopkins, T.S. Eliot, Sharon Olds, Robert Hass, Patrick Lane, Margaret Atwood. I could list two dozen more, but these six are foundationally important to me.

Who is your favourite painter?

Lee Beames (Cdn).

Who is your favourite musician?

Daniel Lanois.

What are your favourite names?

My nephews? names, Andrew and Reid, are still deliciously new and full of miraculous joy to me.

What is it you most dislike?


What natural talent would you most like to possess?

Gymnastic bendiness. Oh, to live a life where you have experienced being able to do a back flip! Such joy was not to be mine?

How do you want to die?

While having ecstatic visions/memories of people I have loved.

What is your motto?

I haven?t thought of it as a motto — but the line of poetry that most often springs unbidden to my mind is Hopkins? ?The world is charged with the grandeur of God.?

Juleta Severson-Baker lives in her hometown of Calgary, Alberta where she writes, teaches poetry and performance at the Mount Royal University Conservatory, works as a birth doula and mothers two wonderful children. Her poetry has been previously published in All That Uneasy Spring (a Leaf Press chapbook ed. Patrick Lane), the journals NõD and Freefall and online at Verse Daily and The House of Blue Skies. In 2010 her chapbook A Hundred Pelts won Freefall press's 20th Anniversary contest for poetry.

For more information about Incarnate please visit the Frontenac House website.

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

Check back for more Proust Questionnaires with Canada's literati in this latest series of interviews on Open Book.

1 comment

Ahhh. You're a poet in your life as well as in your art, Juleta. ? Rachel

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