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Elizabeth Zetlin : Writing Philosophy

Where does your inspiration come from?

Garlic, tomatoes, limestone, and apostrophes. From badminton and the backs of squirrels. From language itself - the meanings and origins of words and their modulators of meaning. From the people I know and admire, disagree with and love.

What's your writing process?

Poems don't come quickly or easily. I rewrite a lot, letting the poem ferment like compost, adding layers, letting it sit, returning to fork it over, until it turns into that sweet crumble that nourishes. If that doesn't work, if the poem still smells and has big undigested chunks, I know I haven't given it enough time or found out yet what the poem needs. Reading it aloud, recording it to playback in the car, pretending I'm listening to it on CBC radio, sharing it with others, all help give another me perspective.

I try to write early in the day, otherwise the energy is gone. Walking and skiing seem to initiate poems, and if I'm lucky, the ideas survive until I get back to the house. I write best in the winter, when I'm banished from the garden. I like to work on a series of poems, exploring an idea like "what if I dismembered hope? What would be left?"

What books of poetry are you reading now?

Wendy Morton's 6 Impossible Things Before Breakfast - an inspiring memoir by the founder of Random Acts of Poetry. I'm rereading John Steffler's That Night We Were Ravenous. Mary Oliver and Don McKay are always close by. The Weather in Japan by Michael Longley. And Albert Goldbarth's Heaven and Earth, A Cosmology. I usually have at least 5 books cracked open on the bed. My favorite poem is one that makes me reach for a pen.

What's your favorite quote about poetry?

Hard to pick just one - I have pages and pages. Here's some favorites. Billy Collins: "The urge to 'tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it' lessens when poetry arises freshly each day." Bronwen Wallace: "Always I am amazed at what we tell, how much faith we put in it. Never knowing who's listening, how they're going to take it, where." Gwendolyn MacEwen: "Poetry has nothing to do with poetry. Poetry is how the air goes green before thunder. Is the sound you make when you come, and why you live and how you bleed, and the sound you make or don't make when you die."

What's your advice to people who want to read poetry but aren't sure where to begin?

Visit your local bookstore/library and just ask for the poetry section. Browse. Take a poet home. Keep one by your bed (or in the bathroom). Flip through until something speaks to you. Read poems out loud. Don't worry about analyzing or "getting it." Visit poets online. Come to the Words Aloud Spoken Word Festival in Durham, listen to Canada's most amazing poets. They will blow your socks off.

How has poetry changed you?

It makes me pay closer attention. It's given me a way to feel good in my skin. Lots of wonderful friends. Trips across Canada and the Atlantic. A way to be in the world. A way to capture thought and image, because my memory is terrible. Great satisfaction when a poem I've written touches someone.

What would you like to see poetry do for Owen Sound's 150th Anniversary?

Create a poetry lake effect. Celebrate poetry, poets and songwriters and pay tribute to a city that knows the value of the arts. For me, poetry isn't just words on a page, but can be how you live your life. It can be a catalyst for a creative city. Poetry is what you can't live without.

What projects have you initiated so far, as Owen Sound's poet laureate?

Poet of the Month profiles of local poets appear on the third Monday of each month in the Owen Sound Sun Times and on the Library's website. For dark chocolate and red wine, I've offered to be the guest poet at Poetry House Parties in people's homes, where everyone shares a poem or song. Guests bring a donation to help support future Poet Laureate projects. We're creating a Poets Gallery online at the Sun Times, where area poets can submit their work as text, audio and video. The most ambitious project is the Poet Laureate Map of Canada, an online map featuring all of Canada's past and present laureates.

— from Zetlin's Poet of the Month Profile published in the Owen Sound Sun Times and on the Owen Sound North Grey and Union Public Library website.

Elizabeth Zetlin's works copyright © to the author.

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