1. How would you describe the aesthetic or creative arc between your two titles: A bagful of haiku – 87 imperfections and isabella mori’s teatable book?
Both books contain and are about poetry. isabella mori’s teatable book is a selection of poetry I wrote between 1980 and 2006. Each poem is accompanied by a text that further elucidates the poem with a story about the content or a comment about the poem (e.g. “perhaps this poem, written in the state of grace that often comes with severe illness, also drew attention to the emotional numbness in my life which would eventually become evident to me, ten years later.”) In the haiku book, you’ll find 87 of my haiku but also musings about haiku and some of its nuances – including over forty supposed haiku rules, some of which contradict each other. In the teatable book, I learned that I have a taste for mixing genre (in this case, poetry and commentary); I have carried that on ever since.
2. How have your growing up years in Germany informed your writing?
I grew up in an artists’ household. My father was a painter, philosopher and all-round creative. My mother wanted to be a violinist; that never happened – partly, I suspect, because it was very difficult for a woman to be a creative in those years, just as it was for my grandmother, a gifted pianist. So, she become a music librarian. Our chaotic home was filled with art, literature, music, literature. I tried my hand at a romance novel when I was eleven, on an ancient manual typewriter!
3. Your day job involves work in areas of mental health, how has that informed your writing?
Of course it informs my writing – how could it not. However, I think it’s more the other way round. I do my best work as a counsellor when I let my creativity have as full a reign as possible, given the constraints of compassion, confidentiality, and ethical behaviour. However, my day job has inspired me to a project where I combine short stories and poems with interviews and research on mental health and addiction. It is currently in the last stages of editing and I hope to soon find a publisher. As you can see, it’s another mixed-genre piece.
4. What writers (or artists in other forms/media) have been formative in shaping how you write? How?
There are many influences, for example abstract and expressionist art (e.g. Alexander Jawlensky), and writers from Dostoevsky, the German playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz (who I’m trying to persuade to let me translate some of his poems) to the Scottish crime writer Denise Mina. What they all have in common, I think, is a desire to articulate as clearly as possible that which is difficult to express – the mysterious, the hard-to-understand, the liminal. I’ve also discovered that I’m quite influenced in general by the type of science fiction I like to read. There isn’t much spelling out of what’s going on – you gotta figure it out for yourself, reader.
5. How do other people contribute to your writing practice?
Immensely. I wrote an essay about that a while ago which you can find in Literary Heist, with the title Does your Horse have a Saddle? In that example, it’s so easy to write about riding a horse, forgetting that there probably needs to be a saddle. That’s one of the many things other writers help me with: they point out glaring gaps. And my writing buddies inspire me, hold me to account and clap loudly when I manage to write eighty words in an hour. I would so much like to think of myself as a lone writer-wolf but in truth I need to be surrounded by a warm herd of fellow wordsmiths.
6. What elements/aspects of writing give you pleasure?
Like other writers, I love it when I’m in the flow and the words just come, effortlessly. Like other writers, that doesn’t happen often. I feel very blessed that that doesn’t bother me anymore. Other than that, I love the physical aspect of writing, my fingers tap-tap-tapping on the keyboard. I love the sound, and I love the feeling. I also really enjoy research. As a kid, I wanted to become a private detective, maybe that’s why. It’s not only the process of research that pleases me but the feeling of depth that comes with knowing that I’ve given a songbird the right kind of nest, or that I’ve placed a tiny little historical detail in the right context.
7. How do you deal with aspects of writing that might provoke frustration, doubt, disappointment, etc.? How do you talk to yourself when things are hard?
I try really hard to engage with writing for at least a few minutes a day, no matter what, no matter how. That continuity provides a solid, soft ground onto which all sorts of frustrations can land without doing too much damage. I also have a spiritual practice that encourages acceptance, equanimity, and minimizing the effects of an overactive ego. That brings a lot of unpleasant experiences and feelings into perspective. And of course, hanging out with my writing buddies helps so much. The nourishment we give and receive each other is a tremendous gift.
8. How do you become conscious of the craft in your work?
In my creative writing, I am always conscious of that. In the beginning, it overshadowed everything; all I was after were intense, colourful, impactful images. I’m very glad that that rarely turned into purple prose – that was probably due to growing up among artists who detested that. It took me quite a while to figure out that I also had a bit of a knack for storytelling. Slowly, I began to learn the techniques of that aspect, and to weave my aesthetic intentions and the craft of storytelling together. But, as Heinlein says in Stranger in a Strange Land, “I am but an egg” – so much to learn still!
9. How do you know as a writer if a piece of work that you have been labouring on is finally completed?
I’m an intuitive person by nature, and in the last decades, have consciously worked on honing my intuition – a sort of bodyheartmindspirit knowing. There’s a feeling of roundness, of satiety, of a melody having come to its conclusion. Usually there is an intellectual thread as well – e.g. I just wrote an essay that began and ended with the theme of thirst. That doesn’t mean that the piece doesn’t cry out for more revision, editing and polish – but the first round is done. I read through it and I’m satisfied.
Isabella Mori lives in Vancouver, and is the author of two books of and about poetry, including A bagful of haiku – 87 imperfections. An alumna of SFU’s The Writer’s Studio, Isabella writes poetry, short fiction, novels and nonfiction. Publications have been in anthologies such as Signs Of Life, The Group Of Seven Reimagined and Kingfisher. Isabella is the founder of Muriel’s Journey Poetry Prize which celebrates loud, edgy, socially engaged poetry. In March and April of 2021, Isabella was the writer-in-residence at the Historic Joy Kogawa House. Isabella’s current project is a multi-genre piece about mental health and addiction.