with Leah Callen:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Leah: I’ve loved poetry since I was little. I always wished I could pen a poem as magical as Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal by Tennyson or Winter Night by Pasternak or The Moon Wakes by Lorca. But I think my first real influences were teachers. My grade 6 English teacher gave me the collected works of Keats and Shelley to encourage me to write. And my creative writing teacher in high school believed my poems had potential and published them in a little class chapbook. I started writing more seriously and furiously one summer in my twenties when I was sick with strep throat, at my Nana’s house in rural Ontario. She made me homemade rice pudding and lent me her antique typewriter. She tried to feed me in body and soul. And I started speaking in verse.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Leah: Lisa Richter, Shaindel Beers, and Kim Fahner are all amazing artists and humans. I’m lucky to know quite a few talented poets. And I’m just inspired by any poet putting their best on the page. A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Shaindel Beers
Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & have any travels away from home influence your work?
Leah: I grew up in a few places because my dad was in the army. Spent time in Ottawa, Kingston, and the UK. I honestly can’t say how that has influenced my poetic voice except that I do not feel strictly rooted to one spot. Later, I lived for twenty years on the west coast and the sea has definitely shaped me. I’m new to the prairies and my poetry is changing again. I think I am different from other prairie poets because of this newness. I feel my poetry is getting more feral here and I’m just going with it.
Q4: What do you consider the most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?
Leah: I wrote a poem about my father before he had heart surgery as a way to honour him. It is likely the most heartfelt piece I’ve ever written. It was a challenge, but it felt right. I hope to give it a home in my first collection which I am hammering away at right now.
Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Leah: I studied creative writing in university with the intention of becoming a professional poet. But I fell for playwriting and screenwriting too. I decided to pursue these degrees after participating in a poetry therapy workshop for cancer survivors at the Callanish Society in Vancouver, BC. I became friends with the incredible poetry therapist, Kirsten Andersen. She told me I was a writer and I believed her.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
Leah: Just let me wander in nature. Nothing gives me more peace. I love animals and feel more comfortable with them than most people. Music also sustains me. Dancing and singing set me free. And I love to swim like a fish.
Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Leah: I have poems coming out soon in The Malahat Review, Event, and Sequestrum. Please keep an eye out for me. Thank you.
Q8: What is a favorite line from a poem of yours or others?
I’ll quote a favourite line by Leonard Cohen:
“There’s a piece that was torn from the morning
and it hangs in the Gallery of Frost.”
What a gorgeous metaphor for what we creative artists try to do.
Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?
Leah: I learned a helluva lot about creativity and craft from professors in my two creative writing degrees at the University of Victoria, and at a Sage Hill poetry colloquium led by George Elliott Clarke at a monastery a few miles from Saskatoon. True story.