Forthcoming from Palimpsest Press, 2022: The Most Cunning Heart (novel)
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
A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Catherine Graham
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Paola: I started writing fiction as soon as I started being able to read to myself, so probably around 7 or 8! My poor elementary school teachers would assign a three page story and I always ended up giving them around twenty pages or so. I didn’t start writing poetry until university, and was at first very resistant to it. Priscilla’s Uppal’s third year poetry workshop changed all that, with an assignment that challenged us to write a poem about something you couldn’t write a poem about (I think I eventually ended up writing a pretty cringy poem about a Pap smear). But it was this idea that poetry could blow subject matter wide open, and present an entirely new way of looking at the world by using words in non-obvious ways that really made me start to love the idea of writing poetry.
Q2: Who is your biggest influences today?
Paola: I always feel like this is such an impossible question to answer because there are so many! Especially since I write both poetry and fiction. In poetry, I would say Anne Boyer for her astonishing mastery of the prose poem, Terrance Hayes for how he can pack a gut punch into a sonnet, and Matthew Zapruder for his deceptively simple lines that evoke such emotional weight. In fiction, it’s Karen Russell for her magic-inflected worlds, and way of following through on a believably outlandish premise while always maintaining an emotionally resonant centre in her characters and Carmen Maria Machado for her genre-bending work, particularly how she incorporates horror into literary stories. There’s also Anakana Schofield for her seductively voice-driven work and her redefinition of the structure of the novel, and Paige Cooper for the way her stories evoke such eerie dreamscapes.
Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing/art? Have any travels away from home influenced work/describe?
Paola: I grew up in Toronto, Canada and still live there now. I think growing up in an urban setting as big as Toronto influences some of the ideas of loneliness and disconnection characters in my fiction tend to manifest, but I also have to say that living in this city has been a blessing in the sense that it has an incredibly supportive and vibrant literary community, which welcomed me and taught so much about how to be a good literary citizen. Reading series like Pivot, launches by House of Anansi and Book*hug, The Puritan’s amazing Black Friday party, and of course, any event put on by the incomparable KnifeFork Books, probably Canada’s most important poetry hub, have all made me a better writer than I am today just from the sheer exposure to other people’s works. In terms of being away from Toronto, my brief, failed stint living out West to attend a clinical psychology program in Vancouver has probably been the most direct influence on my work, in that it was the first place where I was forced to confront the reality of living with my own depression. I remember holding up my hand on the mountain at Simon Fraser University, and not being able to see it because of how thick the fog was. And I remember thinking my hand lost in that fog was just the visual representation of how I felt at the time, like the me I knew had gotten lost and couldn’t find herself anymore. That experience inspired a piece of short fiction I wrote, “The Underside of a Wing,” which won The New Quarterly’s Peter Hinchcliffe Award and is one of the stories in my newly finished collection.
Q4: What do you consider your most meaningful work that you’ve done creatively so far to you?
Paola: I think I’m going to give a very biased answer here, mostly because whatever work-in-progress I’ve either just finished or am currently in the middle of is always the work I feel most connected to. Right now, I’ve just completed the manuscript for my first collection of short stories, Her Body Among Animals, a genre-bending, speculative set of tales that combine elements of horror and science fiction to explore how women confront and challenge the realities of living in a world “among animals,” where violence is intertwined with ecological disruptions. I feel like this work, along with a recent chapbook of poems I’ve completed, The Dark Unwind, really start to explore the ecological implications of allowing a patriarchal culture to continue, and how that affects, among other things, women’s mental health. Really I think I consider this book, and the chapbook I mentioned, so important to me because they challenge how we deal with fear, while providing hope for a future that doesn’t have to repeat past mistakes.
Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Paola: Like I mentioned before, I definitely knew I wanted to be a writer when I was young, even though I hadn’t yet discovered poetry. My mom and I were working our way through The Chronicles of Narnia, and she’d read me a chapter a night. By the time I got to the third book in the series, I was tired of waiting to find out what happened, and just started reading on my own. And I remember asking “Who made this world?” (which I may or may not have believed I could access at the back of my own closet for a while) and she explained what an author was, and what fiction was. I think that was the moment I decided that’s what I wanted to do; to create worlds with words that were real enough for people to lose themselves in.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
Paola: There’s time for activities other than writing…? Seriously, though, swimming, rock climbing (which also led to the development of a writerly friendship with the lovely Kate Finegan) and craft beer, which is what happens when you’re the partner of a brewer. I also have been known to enjoy a good horror movie and a good punk show.
Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Paola: Right now I’m mostly in the “querying agents about my short fiction collection while I start a speculative fiction novel” stage of promotion, but as the Managing Co-Editor and Poetry Editor of Minola Review www.minolareview.com, I’m really excited about what the next year will bring for our journal. We’ve just received an Ontario Arts Council Grant, and thanks to this support, we are going to be able to pay our contributors substantially more, hire a Reviews Editor, and start an editor- mentorship program, which will allow us to mentor readers interested in learning more about the editorial world of a literary journal while also offering them honoria. This fall, I’m very much looking forward to seeing one of my poems, “ASCH’S LINE STUDY IN THE CURRENT ANTHROPOCENE” appear in Best Canadian Poetry 2021, which is currently available for pre- order at https://biblioasisbookshop.com/. As well, one of my short stories will appear in Véhicule Press’s anthology of new generation Canadian fiction, edited by André Forget, which is due out in Spring 2022. And of course, I should mention that if anyone is interested in my first poetry collection, What to Wear When Surviving a Lion Attack, which was shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award in 2020, they can find it at, http://mansfieldpress.net/2019/06/what-to-wear-when-surviving- a-lion-attack/ or simply go to my website paolaferrante.com for the link as well as updates on my writing news. http://www.minolareview.com/paola-ferrante-1
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem or writing of yours or others?
Paola: Some of my favourite lines from my own poetry are from the poem, “AFTER MIDNIGHT,” which inspired the title of a chapbook I’m currently looking to publish, The Dark Unwind. The lines are: “All my life I’ve danced with the wolf/ a long, slow waltz in the dark unwind.” I think these lines mean so much to me because they allowed me to talk openly about my depression, which, due to stigma around mental health in my family of origin, wasn’t possible for a long time. In this poem, which is addressed to my unborn child, I wanted to talk about how, yes, depression can feel sometimes feel like being consumed by a wolf, but I also wanted to talk about the possibility of hope and joy. Later on in the poem, there is a reference to my child as Little Red Riding Hood not needing the hunter to come save her from the wolf’s stomach, with the idea being that she doesn’t need saving, that a future can exist in which the wolf will not eat her up.
Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?
Paola: I’m going to try to make this not sound like one of those Oscars speeches that gets cut off because it goes too long… Kate Finegan, who is a wonderfully talented writer, has been an invaluable editor and friend. I have a lovely writing group, the Eastwood Writers’ Collective, composed of Dawn Chapman, Lee Parpart, Susana Molino, Alison Frost, Grace MacCall, and Kate, who have been incredibly supportive and provided feedback that has made me a better writer. I also recently had the pleasure of a mentorship with Russell Smith, with the support of a Canada Council grant, and he helped me finish my short fiction collection. His advice was incisive and candid and taught me a lot about the art of fiction, definitely making my book a better one. I would also be remiss in not mentioning my partner Mat, who has always believed I could be a writer, even when I didn’t, and my mother, who made me want to write in the first place.