Sabyasachi Nag(SSN): Why did you write this book? How long did it take?
Lynn Tait (LN): I started a book around 2010, but it was very unfocused and going nowhere. Our son Stephen, passed away at the age of 29 in 2012, and the themes and writing began to change direction. I realized there were too many difficult people in my life. I spent years researching Narcissism, social psychology and dysfunctional personalities. My relationship with my mother was difficult. There was Covid. I felt I’d remained silent long enough regarding what I observed happening to and around me. The book really started to come together in 2019. Some of the events I wrote about happened after I signed the contract in the summer of 2021, so poems were included, prompted by toxic individuals and life events right down to just before typesetting.
SSN: The title of the collection is borrowed from the poem Measures of Forgiveness, why did you choose this line for the title?
LT: It went through numerous title changes. Though great titles, they didn’t fit.
The collection was mainly about disconnection, brokenness, and the need to take responsibility for our actions, to mend, to reconnect. I’ve seen this slogan in stores.
I thought it was catchy and strong, and it worked with the idea I had for the cover: a take on Japanese pottery repair—Kintsugi.
SSN: Several poems in the collection are in response to, in conversation with, or inspired by another poem/poet (He Wants a Dangerous Poem: Patrick Lane; I Do Know the Spelling of Money: Tongo Eisen-Martin; We Do Not Tolerate Difference – Jericho Brown; Yawn, Comma, Yawn – Kay Gabriel; Measures of Forgiveness – Anne Lamott). Why/ How did these poems evoke a conversation/response/conversation?
LT: The Patrick Lane poem was written at Wintergreen Studios. He used a lot of f-bombs. I spent most of the night trying to write what he asked for. I found it difficult, so wrote how frustrating it was in real time. My room was the attic. I had to climb a ladder and was the only person short enough to walk around up there without bending over. During the writing realized the ceiling was covered in insects. The Money and Difference poem was written during a Zoom workshop Lisa Richter was conducting. Each day we read a poem from Poem A Day which featured black poets all month. The political unrest at the time was very alarming. I find political poems hard to write. Takes me out of my comfort zone and I’m by no means an activist. The Comma poem came out of a Zoom workshop with writer Marj Hahne exploring the American sonnet. The Forgiveness poem came from a brilliant essay of Lamott’s on how forgiveness is easier said than done.
SSN: Is there a pattern in these choices you are conscious of? Could you talk a bit about the crafting process of the homage poems?
LT: No pattern, but poetry itself are great prompt for writing poems and paying homage. If not the subject matter, a poem structure provides a spark, as in the duplex, the form Brown invented or after Gabriel’s American sonnet. I love using epigraphs. Have written centos and my own style of glossa in another manuscript I’m working on.
SSN: Several poems in the collection are admittedly inspired by books on narcissism (Narcissists Tripping the Light Fantastic; Fear the Walking Dead). Could you talk a bit more about this connection
LT: Though the word gets overused, I was running into too many individuals with narcissistic tendencies. I find human behaviour fascinating, but I thought it was time to learn more for my own mental health. I needed more boundaries. I wasn’t aware of many poems written on the subject and was appalled at their manipulation tactics and what overt narcissists get away with. The timing seemed right to write about it.
SSN: The collection is sectioned into three parts: (Disconnections; Enemies we Cannot See; and Collision Course) Could you talk a bit about the choice of the section titles and how certain poems ended up in each of these sections for instance Now We Are Six in Disconnections; Frida in Enemies we Cannot See; Poem Written by A White Woman in Collision Course?
LT: Kimmy Beach and Catherine Owen helped with what went in and where when the manuscript was still in draft. The Section titles changed over time. Except for maybe two pieces, the first section deals with personal poems and relationships. For Now, We Are Six all four of us mentioned, had certain events in common, dealing with parents, the death of loved ones by overdose, or trusting in relationships that turned sour. We were communicating through social media, and I finally met them all at once at a writers’ conference. Frida to me encompasses struggles in our lives, as artists and as women, especially physical and emotional pain. Pain is intangible. Many of the poetry in the second section deals with situations and people you don’t see coming and there’s confusion as to how to handle it. The third section is more global in concept.
SSN: Can you recall an experience where you might have worked with another poet/writer or maybe you collaborated with a visual artist, or a performing artist (say a musician/actor/dancer) – how was that experience different or similar? Or seminal or generative?
LT: No. Collaboration has been discussed with one of my writer Zoom groups. Time will tell. I’m a photographer as well. I still haven’t joined the two together. Still finding my photo voice. I’ve done many generative writing and critiquing workshops throughout the years which are collaborative and social in their own way.
SSN: Do you remember any experience around learning to write that became formative for you in the later years?
LT: My grade 10 Creative Writing and Theatre Arts teacher Sandra Lawrence was very influential. In Sarnia, I had a whole group of women writers that were my mentors. I met them in the mid-seventies. They had all been together for years before I joined them. I was the ‘kid’. One of them, Norma West Linder recently passed away. Peggy Fletcher was another. Most of them are gone now but were instrumental in teaching me the basics of editing and revision. We were all very supportive of each other. I miss the camaraderie.
SSN: Has there been a relationship (in your writing life, that you are aware of) between your writing practice and how your writing has been more or less of a social activity integrated or interdependent on the community around you?
LT: That’s been somewhat of a roller coaster ride. It was a social activity and supportive back with the Sarnia writing group I mentioned earlier. As they got older or passed away other local writers came aboard. I watched some take various unhealthy and hurtful turns, especially with and to other poets. Presently my local Zoom writing group, the Blue Water Writers is mostly prose authors. We Zoom twice a month. Most are my age or older. It’s a respectful bunch. Though I have local poet friends, I’ve learned to keep boundaries that I didn’t need with the original group. Zooming has been a godsend for me. I’ve been involved with several writing/critiquing groups since COVID, and we are still together! The PoGos Zoom twice a week, and the critiquing poetry group Not The Rodeo Poets twice a month. Both are social and supportive, and we are in contact through chatting, emails, and texts when not Zooming. We live all over North America. I’ve been privileged to meet poets from both groups in the flesh. I’ve also met some amazing people through workshops with limited participants. There is trust and caring you don’t always see in live groups.
SSN: Do you have a writing routine? Or writing rituals? Or patterns you must follow regularly? Or rituals that you practice say, when you are writing in certain forms, say a longer piece of work like a novel, as opposed to a shorter piece, say a poem?
LT: No. Workshops help settle me down to focus. Helps with discipline. I’m easily distracted, a tad lazy, and have dreadful time management skills. My ADHD either helps or hinders me depending on the day. Sometimes lines or a rhythm goes through my head, and I can’t get rid of it so I write it out. I’ve notebooks and pens all over the house. I’ve written entire drafts on the flyleaf pages of books I’m reading when not close to paper.
SSN: Can you reflect on a specific performance, song, painting, film, or other non-written artwork that generated or strongly influenced any of your recent work?
LT: I’ve used lines from songs and movies but can’t say I’m strongly influenced by non-written artwork at this time.
SSN: Could you name a source that served as an inspiration earlier but is no longer an inspiration, but rather something you are currently conflicted with or even hostile towards?
LT: I’m trying to cut back on writing about toxic people and unhealthy relationships. I was in therapy a couple of years before Covid and during. I’m better prepared for manipulative antics. I keep certain people at arm’s length and I’m trying to be more self-aware. I’ve let go of some of the anger. I can’t change people, only my reactions. I’m working on a manuscript that has little to do with toxicity and more to do with our connections to grief, each other; poems about my son, nature and travel.
SSN: What stories do you have (perhaps generative, perhaps constraining) about yourself as a poet? (i.e., What you’re good at or bad at, where you are in your writing journey, etc.)? How have these stories changed or remained the same over time/across different experiences?
LT: My grammar is shaky. I’m terrible at word enunciation. My mouth doesn’t always work properly. I use words in poems I can’t pronounce. I’m lazy and undisciplined. I lose my train of thought easily. I do explore these things in the book. I think I’m good with metaphor, turns of phrase, layering themes, delving into sticky topics, using humour, being real and allowing my readers to feel at home, or so I’m told. Sometimes I think I’m still at the beginning of my writing journey. I’ve been publishing poems for over twenty years, so people are shocked it’s my first collection. With Covid winding down, I’ve cut down on paid workshops. I can’t look that far ahead. I’m considering writing personal essays, though I’m uncomfortable with prose. When the second book finds a home I’ll take a break, maybe concentrate on photography.
SSN: This collection has been described as a collection of elegies. Was that your intention from the start?
LT: No. I saw it at first as breaking the silence, writing about uncomfortable and disappointing situations. It was rather scary. I’m surprised how many people have thanked me for writing specific poems. I guess it turned into a collection of elegies. The elegies are more intentional in the book I’m writing now, probably because it explores grief and its complexities more thoroughly.
SSN: Could you talk a bit about the publishing process: how did you go about it and how the collection morphed through the editing stages?
LT: It grew. But before I sent it to Guernica, I omitted nearly all the grief poems. They didn’t belong. Death, grief, and nature bind us. Most, but not all the poems about my son had no place in a book about disconnection and toxic relationships. Poems were written after submitting, and after Guernica accepted it. I took a few poems out. I’d send new ones, and my editor, Michael Mirolla included them all! He didn’t reject a single poem I added. I was assigned a cover artist, and we followed each other’s directions. We were both happy with the result. My thinking morphed after it was published. Readers connect with the scenarios presented in the book. I wasn’t just telling my stories. I realized this book was somewhat of a pushback. These are poems of resilience.
Lynn Tait is a Toronto-born award-winning poet and photographer residing in the land of the Anishinaabeg people, now Sarnia Ontario, where she lives with her husband Robert. She has published poetry in major magazines and journals since 1978 including Contemporary Verse 2, FreeFall Magazine, Windsor Review, Vallum, Feathertale Review, and the Literary Review of Canada, as well as in over 100 anthologies. Her poems have placed and been shortlisted in various contests. She has published a chapbook, Breaking Away, and co-authored a book, Encompass I. Her photography/digital images have appeared on the covers of nine poetry books. She’s participated in workshops with Patrick Lane, Susan Musgrave, George Elliot Clarke, Di Brandt, Alice Major, Ellen Bass, Marie Howe and Karen Solie, John Sibley Williams, Marj Hahne, Lisa Richter and Kim Addonizio. Lynn Tait is an associate member of The Academy of American Poets, full member in the League of Canadian Poets, a member of The Ontario Poetry Society and The Writers’ Union of Canada. Her book You Break It You Buy It is available through Guernica Editions, and local bookstores. She’s working on her second book of poetry titled The Realm of In Between.