with Catherine Graham:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Catherine: I began writing poetry after the deaths of my parents. They died during my undergraduate years. Mother, my first year, father, my last. Grief hit me hard but also became a catalyst to my creative journey which I expand on below. First influences include Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop and Anne Sexton.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Catherine: The creative process is my biggest influence. I pay attention to what triggers my imagination. I follow energy lines from various sources: dreams, dream lines, nature, words, music, books and art and coax them into shape so that I have a draft to play with and see if I might craft it into a poem.
Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Catherine: After my parents’ back to back deaths, I was consumed with grief. A worried friend suggested I see a therapist. The therapist suggested I keep a journal. This helped but it wasn’t a cure. One day I started playing with words—images, rhythms and memories of my parents, the water-filled limestone quarry I grew up beside. I fell into a portal where time and pain disappeared and when I came back out I knew something pivotal had happened. Eventually I worked up the courage to share what I’d written with that family friend and she told me I was writing poetry. Of course I knew what poetry was but I didn’t think that I could participate in such an endeavour. At that point the only poems I’d been exposed to were written by bearded men now long dead. But once that connection was made, poetry became the core of my life.
Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?
Catherine: I’d have to say my parents. Their deaths fueled my creative life, plus the water-filled limestone quarry we lived beside. My long term editor, Paul Vermeersch, has also helped me immensely on the poetry journey. He’s edited all my poetry collections (except my first chapbook, The Watch). Pupa, The Red Element, Winterkill, Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects, The Celery Forest, Æher: An-Out-of-Body Lyric. His belief and continued support mean the world to me. Exchanging poems with writer friends such as James Wyshynski and Ayesha Chatterjee is also extremely helpful.
Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & did any travels away from home influence your work?
Catherine: I was born in Hamilton but grew up in small town Ontario. The Niagara Escarpment behind our house in Grimsby became the first landscape I loved, followed by the water-filled limestone quarry beside our bungalow in Ridgeway. When poetry charged into my life, it led me to Northern Ireland where I studied and lived during the 90’s. I love the Irish and Northern Irish poets: Michael Longley, Joan and Kate Newmann, Kathleen McCracken (Canadian and Northern Irish!), and more. I’m grateful many have become dear friends.
Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?
Catherine: I’ve written seven collections of poetry and one novel (Quarry) and they are all meaningful to me. Perhaps they serve as one long creative piece. However, the most meaningful of the lot is my recent collection: Æther: An Out-of-Body Lyric. It’s a hybrid book—poetry, prose, memoir, lyric essay—a homage to family, to cancer and to the strange windings of truth.
Q7: Favorite activities to relax?
Catherine: I love walking, especially in nature. It helps me process thoughts and emotions and deepens my thinking so insights occur, synchronicities happen, and questions or concerns I’m currently grappling with gain new perspectives. Walking brings comfort, joy and balance to my life.
Lake swimming is another activity I love. Front crawl, breast stroke—back and forth. I become one with water. I also love to visit art galleries. I adore looking at art.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?
Catherine: I’ve been working with dream lines lately. Half-awake in the dark, I jot them down in a bedside notebook and hope I’m able to decipher my scribbles in the morning. My mother rarely visits my dreams but before my imminent departure to leave on a poetry reading tour in Northern Ireland, after a very long absence, she said these comforting words: “You’re a game changer. A post-autumn woman.” That line morphed with a dream I had about Seamus Heaney and became part of a recently published poem “Sleep Patterns for Seamus Heaney.” I was honoured to have it appear in University College Dublin / Museum of Literature Ireland’s new journal Belfield Literary Review.
Sleep Patterns for Seamus Heaney
We hold sleep patterns for him.
Clip flowers from seeds; mist
hours from worries
into a line’s heartbeat.
Tears are rinsers,
not energy takers.
We don’t envy
his gift, we coax
Take me, for instance,
You’re a game changer, a post-autumn woman.
Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Well, there’s Æther: An-Out-of-Body Lyric as mentioned above. It’s now out and available for purchase. My second novel, The Most Cunning Heart. appears Spring 2022 and my eighth poetry collection appears in 2023. Some upcoming events include presenting at the CAA conference (https://canadianauthors.org/national/presenters/) leading the Toronto Festival of Authors Book Club (https://festivalofauthors.ca/book-club/) and reading at Word on the Street (https://toronto.thewordonthestreet.ca/) and Gloucester Poetry Festival (http://www.gloucesterpoetryfestival.uk/). Oh, and I wrote about Æther: An-Out-of-Body Lyric here: https://alllitup.ca/Blog/2021/Lit-Locale-Broken-Landscapes-in-AEther-An-Out-of-Body-Lyric.
Readers may also find me on Twitter and Instagram: @catgrahampoet or they may visit my website: www.catherinegraham.com.
Thanks so much for the interview!
Shortlisted for the Toronto Book Awards, praise for Æther: An Out-of-Body Lyric:
“Catherine Graham’s seventh book of poetry is an intricate reverie, in poetry and prose, which floats back and forth in time and between memories, dreams and reflections.” – Toronto Star
“It is a masterpiece. The melding of poetry and prose into a beautiful and heartbreaking skein, gradual revelation, going back/going forward, weaving in and out, repeating and broadening the meaning as you go. A journey that is fascinating, heartrending, and courageous.” – Marilyn Gear Pilling