Malahat Review work-study student/editorial assistant Amanda Proctor talks with one of the three Long Poem Prize judges about poems that puncture reality, the process of rewriting, and what the paintings of the Ojibwe artist Norval Morrisseau taught him about writing.
AP: As a judge for this year’s Long Poem Prize, what are you looking for in a winning submission? What qualities make a poem stand out for you?
AGR: Each judge will have their own preferences, and that’s the fun of being on a jury. For me, I’m interested in reading a poem that makes me see and feel something in a new way. Poetry by its nature drills down to the level of language, and once the poem goes deep enough into that territory there is a tendency for it to bang against the world where it easily slips into non-recognition. Bang. Bang bang. I look for a poem that moves beyond the dull banging and instead punctures reality – be it love or loss or a tree or a chair. The poem has to make me see in such a way that it penetrates my humanity. For me simply disrupting syntax, or grammar, or stacking associational words together haphazardly just ends up in noise. On the other hand, I am also not looking for poems in which the word and line are flattened to the point where it lacks energy and invention and falls limply into plodding prose. That’s the other extreme. I guess I’m looking for a fine balance.
Read the rest of Armand Garnet Ruffo's interview.
Interview with 2020's Constance Rooke CNF Prize Winner, Christina Brobby
Malahat Review creative nonfiction editorial board member Serena Lukas Bhandar talks with the Constance Rooke CNF Prize winner about her piece "On Playing Double Jeopardy!" which appears in our winter issue #213.
SLB: Your essay is framed and filtered in many ways, not only through the hermit crab concept of a Jeopardy! episode (which I love, it's so clever) and the terminology of photography, but also in your use of second person point-of-view and a restricted emotional tone. I'm curious — what drew you to filter the contents of the essay in this way?
CB: I didn’t set out to write about the breakup of my relationship. I’m more comfortable writing about identity, race, isolation and loss. In fact, the separation was a topic I actively avoided for years even though it had a profound impact on my life.
The advantage of the hermit crab form is how it lends itself to tackling difficult subjects. Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola talk about this in their book, Tell It Slant, where you can “find yourself writing about memories and topics you never thought you would approach.” That’s what happened with this piece. I had the Jeopardy! form idea and even the photography category for a while. When I finally started writing the essay, I’d pose the questions and be open to what emerged as a response. It’s one of the rare times where the essence of the piece was captured in the first draft.
Second person point-of-view served two purposes. It allowed me to keep some perspective on matters that I felt quite vulnerable writing about. Also, I was thinking of the best Jeopardy! contestants like James Holzhauer and Ken Jennings and how they are so emotionally restrained during the show. I attempted to emulate that in the essay’s tone.
Read the rest of Christina Brobby's interview.