Malahat intern Matthew Thibeault talks with 2015 Long Poem Prize winner Genevieve Lehr about process, creative patience, and how her prize-winning poem “The latter half of the third quarter of the waning moon” found its space.
The first line of “The Latter Half of the Third Quarter…” is 'Metamorphosis is everywhere.' Would you say that this statement is true of much of your work?
Metamorphosis seems to capture something of my approach to writing and living. There's the sense that form, texture, physical appearance is never static, but in a process of change, growth, even dying. Within that realization, there are the eureka moments I try to tap into.
Passages in this poem can be interpreted in a number of ways. How do you strike a balance between leaving room for interpretation and maintaining a clear message?
While writing this poem it felt as if the images and words came from some mysterious place, a world that I had to journey into without knowing where I was going. I engaged with the process and tried not to let rational thinking take over. Clarity and ambiguity seemed to play against one another naturally and I spent a lot of time sitting and waiting, holding space for the poem to emerge. Of course, then there are the hours of editing, sharing with friends who offered wonderful suggestions.
Your observations regarding the significant moments of youth are particularly compelling. I understand you’ve taught in the public school system. Has being a teacher influenced your development as a writer?
Well, it's been six years since I taught in the public school system, so I'd have to say my observations of the significant moments of youth come from raising my own three children, though I'm sure there's residual influence from years working as a teacher and paying attention to children. My love of language and words certainly influenced my teaching, and perhaps teaching provided me with perspectives on life and writing I may not have otherwise had.
Your writing uses intimate and often haunting imagery to express the complexities of human relationships. Is the decision to approach imagery in this manner one you make consciously when you sit down to write? How does it affect the shaping of a long poem like this one?
When writing a long poem, I create, in my mind, the space for the poem to be written. It's a physical space as well as a creative one. I can feel the inside of my mind stretch, like a muscle, as it readies itself. Perhaps I'll go for a run, gather images, pay attention to the outer world while shaping an inner place for the poem to take up residency. Perhaps the images are haunting because I feel a kind of haunting as I'm writing. Usually, something tells me the poem will be a long poem, the subject, the energy it brings, the restlessness I feel that lets me know the poem needs to go on, isn't finished yet. The images are formed out of experiences that are either real or imagined, sometimes a merger of both.
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