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Q&A With Arleen Paré

Bloom: How did you come to writing poetry?

Arleen Paré: It’s a long story that I will try to shorten. I didn’t start writing until I was almost 50. I worked as a social worker/administrator in a large community mental health agency for 20 years and along the way I added to my various degrees by taking an MA in Adult Education part time. When I completed my thesis, a large writing that I enjoyed very much, I wanted another writing project to fill my mind and so I started to write a novel. Friends asked me to join a writing group and on the first night I decided I should bring a poem to the group instead of a chapter from the novel—mainly for the economy of time. So I wrote a poem, and my friends thought my poem was a real poem. I have never looked back. I had never really liked poetry, but I never looked back. I was hooked and have kept writing poetry, though sometimes in tandem with lyric prose.

Bloom: You acknowledge Lorna Crozier, your MFA supervisor. Can you talk about that mentor relationship and how she’s influenced your poetry and your life as a writer?

AP: I have such gratitude for Lorna and her presence in my life. She was a fine and exacting mentor, always encouraging but never indulgent. I admire her poetry, her teaching and her style. Sometimes I think: what would Lorna do? I now count her as a friend and am grateful that we are. Her support and her clear, informed editing of my work have taught me so much and have been vastly important.

Bloom: What difference has winning the Governor General’s Literary Award made in your life?

AP: It has sped up my life and increased my commitments. But I suspect that’s just for now. I’ve been invited to so many literary festivals and events, and consequently have met many wonderful people all across Canada. Winning the Governor generals Award has caused me to take myself and my poetry more seriously, and at the same time I feel more relaxed about it all. It has changed my life. For instance, I have now met you.

Bloom: In an interview with Rob McLennan, you say you start with a book idea. How did Lake of Two Mountains start? How did it change as you worked on it?

AP: It’s true that I often start with a particular idea, something that appeals to me for a writing project, hopefully a book. This helps to direct and contain my focus. Lake of Two Mountains, an actual lake just west of Montreal was a big part of my young life. I was in love with this lake where I spent my childhood summers. There, I learned to swim, row a boat, catch tadpoles, listen to frogs. Idyllic. I wanted to write about this geography of my spirit because I knew it so well and because I wanted to memorialize it. As I worked on this project and thought more about the lake, its history and watery spread, I started to include aspects of the lake that I hadn’t known about or experienced as a child. This broadened the project and made it richer. I began to love it more and more.

Bloom: You talk about the lake and its “geography of [your] spirit.” I hear in that phrase a bringing together of body and spirit—of geo and theo or pneuma, if you will. You carry the lake in your heart, as it were. Am I reading this correctly? Can you comment on it? Does this inform your life in other ways, besides your poetry? Has it continued to inform your poetry since Lake of Two Mountains?

AP: I carry the lake in my cellular structure and in my spirit, not so much my heart, which I think of as more, hmmmm, sentimental, I suppose. The lake is a part of me; it informs my writing in the same way that my family of origin would inform my writing; I’m not entirely aware of it. This is an interesting question, the forest for the trees kind of question, or water for a fish. I am very attached to this part of eastern Canadian geography, but if the lake had not been a part of my childhood experience, I’m not sure my writing would be necessarily very different.

Bloom: You say that you want to memorialize the lake. That sent me back to the epigraph of your book—Chase Twichell‘s words, “All that we love, we try to memorize.” “Memorialize” and “memorize” are not that far apart! Can you talk about your choice of Twichell’s line and this relationship of memorizing and memorializing?

AP: In writing this collection, I was memorializing the lake, making it known to others in a heightened and praising way. The epigraph suggests something a little different: how we want to keep whatever we’ve known and loved close to us. One of the ways we can keep something, someone, close is to memorize it, the way we memorize a poem, the way we take a snapshot, we keep the details of the beloved within easy reach.

Bloom: How does your prose writing influence your poetry, and vice versa?

AP: I like to persuade my prose to be as poetic as possible, to be lyric prose, with a serious attention to the language I’m using. I find that to begin writing a poem using a prosaic style can be useful. It makes it easier to outline the territory. After that I can edit in the poetics. This is one way I can approach a poem.

Bloom: I think many American readers are mostly unfamiliar with Canadian writers—and Canadian poets are even less known, I think, than Canadian novelists. Who are a handful of Canadian poets that you wish had a bigger readership in the US, and why?

AP: All these poets that I am about to mention write like angels of course. Poets like Lorna Crozier, whom you already love, and her husband, Patrick Lane, are both wonderful well-established iconic Canadian poets with a range of interests, but who often write about western Canadian themes. Also Don McKay, who writes a lot about birds, nature, and the relationship between humans and nature. Melanie Seibert for her collection called Deep Water V—the intelligent density of her poems. Anne-Marie Turza for her collection called The Quiet—the precise, haunting quality of her small poems. Dionne Brand because she’s so great. Nicole Brossard because she’s so great. Kayla Czaga for her collection called For Your Safety Please Hold on, for the way she writes about the hard business of growing up with such clarity and sweetness. More of course, many more, but I think that’s already a handful.

Bloom: And now a question that turns to an American writer. In that interview with Rob McLennan you say that art helps us “develop an awakened and courageous and indecorous soul,” and this sounds so much like Henry David Thoreau, particularly in his essay “Walking.” “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” Has Thoreau influenced your thinking about art and the natural world? Are there other writers who have influenced your thinking? Who? and How?

AP: Although I may have said that, I have not, I am embarrassed to admit, read Thoreau. I may have been influenced just because Thoreau and his influence is often “in the air.” I have been influenced though by the writers I mentioned above, so many of whom have written about the natural world, and perhaps by American writers like Gary Snyder, the simplicity of his work. But most of all I’ve been influenced by Tim Lilburn‘s To the River and Don Domanski‘s All Our Wonder Unavenged. I am just undone by those two collections.

Bloom Post EndClick here to read Athena Kildegaard’s feature piece on Arleen Paré.

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