Poet Myna Wallin talks to Sharon Berg

1. In his blog Today’s Book of Poetry, the late Michael Dennis said of your book Anatomy Of An Injury (Innana, 2018): “Myna Wallin knows all about the pain we dump on one another, share willingly, or not. But this heart, this poet, is bigger than just pain, Wallin is buoyed by hope. As fragile, futile and as far out of reach as hope may be.” Clearly, you are determined to deal with your pain as you emerge from love affairs, and you strive for balance. Please tell the reader why you are determined to find humour in so many of those situations.

MW: I don’t know whether I am “determined” to find humour in painful situations, or whether humour finds me. I see the world a little skewed; it’s alarming, sad, and it’s also absurd and hilarious. Humour is the buoy that has kept me afloat through some dark times. I also use humour to keep the weight of bleaker material from sinking into its own self-importance.

2. Your poems often seem to set out to tell one tale of love and then abruptly change direction to deliver a different approach to the concept of relationships. In fact, your poetry often delivers a complete contrast to the reader’s initial expectations. This makes one wonder about your own expectations of love. Can you indulge a reader’s curiousity and explain why there are so many twists and turns in your poems? Does this somehow reflect your experience in the romantic realm?

MW: The “twists and turns” in my poems aren’t something I was conscious of while writing them. I suppose it’s good to play with expectations, and offer a surprise ending, whenever possible. If what I offer is a “complete contrast to the reader’s initial expectations,” I hope that’s a good thing. But I can’t guess as to what those expectations are. As to my experiences in the “romantic realm,” my novel, Confessions of a Reluctant Cougar, speaks to that question more fully than my poems do. But there are several poems in my collection that I would term anti-romantic poems, until the final romantic suite. 

3. Over your writing career, there have been suggestions that you use alchemy and cast spells for love, a common mystification of women that is meant to undercut their power over men. You appear to have chosen to play with that idea. There are poems in this book that suggest you have/had a taste for younger men, for being a dominatrix, and yet you have given this book the title Anatomy Of An Injury. That seems to be a contradiction. Yet, several of the pieces in this book speak to a sense of personal inadequacy. Human beings are certainly complex. Were you aware of creating that sense of contradiction when you put together the poems in this book? 

MW: In the title poem, Anatomy of An Injury …. the speaker exclaims, “Limping/ and twisted, I cast terrible spells.” I imagined her waving her cane, her female powers increasing while her physical prowess weakens. It wasn’t meant to be spells for love. I never saw the speaker’s love of younger men or the speaker-as-dominatrix in ‘The Self as Both Object and Subject’ as being incompatible with the title of the book. I wasn’t aware of that sense of contradiction when I put the book together. These are the kinds of fascinating things one discovers when other people read your work.

4. What themes and inquiries are you pursuing with this collection?

MW: Relationships and their aftermath, recovering from them; physical injuries and their aftermath, recovering from them; death of parents; sexual politics; love of animals, even fantastical animals like my “mush team of bobcats” in ‘Domestication’; aging as in the poem, ‘I’ve Reached the Age of I Don’t Care’; and in two poems, there are noir archetypes, ‘Ms. Pac-Man Always Rings Twice’ and ‘Film Noir’. There are more inquiries, I’m sure, but those are the ones that stand out. 

5. How did you arrive at the title? What was your intention for the title to do? 

MW: I arrived at the title, Anatomy of An Injury by going through individual poem titles in the manuscript, looking for one that would resonate with the whole collection. For a long time, Death, Wildlife, and Taxes was the working title, because there are so many animals populating the poems. But then, I realized that Anatomy of An Injury worked for both the emotional injuries and the actual physical injuries that I wrote about.

6. Are any aspects of the book autobiographical? How did you consciously deal with your intimate material (i.e., experiences – emotional and physical) in a way that avoids the dangers of straight autobiography? 

MW: When I write, I’m not afraid of using my own life as material, or an interpretation of my own life, whether absurd or exaggerated. Even Ms. Pac-Man (in ‘Ms. Pac-Man Always Rings Twice’) is me or an angry version of me. So, in a sense, everything I write comes from my own experience, and sometimes I use my experiences as imagery or material for a taking off point that veers somewhere else (like ‘Death, Wildlife, and Taxes’, where the speaker comes upon a huge dead raccoon in the middle of the street, and it takes her all the way to the memory of her mother). I identify as a narrative or confessional poet. But I also enjoy using surrealism, dream imagery, or dark humour to get my emotions across.

7. What do you intend for readers to be left with after the final page?

MW: The last poem in my collection, ‘Suite for John’, is a four-part love letter to my boyfriend. After the other poems of failed love, this is a celebration of finding love and wanting to keep it. It’s a positive, optimistic ending to the book. It says, no matter how many failed attempts you have at love—and I have had more than my share—someone is waiting for you. I have always believed that would be the case. So, I thought that note of optimism would make a good ending.

8. What would you say is the most fundamental difference between your earlier work and this new collection?

MW: My poems have gotten longer. I don’t censor myself as much, and I’m willing to carry on past page one and see what happens. Because poets are (by definition) supposed to be terse and their writing compact, this is a risk, but one I’m very happy to take. 

9. With what other book will this work make a good comparison? Are there any themes/ideas/tropes/forms in this collection that relate to a comparable work?

MW: When George Elliott Clarke reviewed my first book, A Thousand Profane Pieces, he compared me to “Ms. Sylvia Plath Atwood: Satire and Cynicism for the Discriminating Reader” which was a huge compliment. And when Molly Peacock blurbed this book, she compared me to a “Canadian Anne Sexton.” I have found Atwood, Plath, and Sexton to be hugely influential, on my way to becoming a poet. And I have always loved the abandon these women write with, the utter fearlessness. None of them is trying to be pretty or cute, or feminine in any traditional sense. I suppose some of my ideas of womanhood chime with theirs, and an overall poetic sensibility. 

10. How would you like this book to be taught—as a historical document, socio-political document or as a document about a certain kind of taste in writing or aesthetic, genre, literary style, or something else?

MW: My current publisher, Inanna Publications, is a feminist press. I like to think that my work has a strong feminist streak, and it would be my greatest privilege if my book were to be read and studied by all kinds of women, who could see themselves in its pages. From ‘In the Service of: An Elegy to Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique’ with its ending lines “pushing/up that glass ceiling with one manicured hand,” through to the end, I am a champion to the women that appear in these pages, except maybe the zombie ex-girlfriend—I was kind of hard on her.

Myna Wallin’s publications include: A Thousand Profane Pieces (poetry), Confessions of A Reluctant Cougar (novel) and Anatomy of An Injury (Inanna Publications, 2018.) Recent poetry of Wallin’s has appeared in Vallum Magazine, The Quarantine Review, NōD Magazine, Sledgehammer Literary Magazine, The Miramichi Review, The Institutionalized Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, and The Antigonish Review. Myna has a master’s degree in English from the University of Toronto. Her poetry has won two honorable mentions: for CV2 2-Day Best Poem Prize, and for the Winston Collins/Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem. Wallin’s poem, “Resurrections,” was chosen for the 2018 League of Canadian Poets’ Poem-in-Your-Pocket-Day.

Listen to Myna Wallin reading The Veil