Mystery and Mischief in Poetry: Canadian Writer Susan Musgrave

Obituary of Light

Obituary of Light
BY Susan Musgrave
(Leaf Press, 2009)

From the Publisher:

“This new book of poems is a sequence of reflections, of mindful blessings, on the everyday goings-on around her home on the Sangan River, ten miles outside Masset on the Queen Charlotte Islands/Haida Gwaii. They were written the year her friend, a local beachcomber, Paul Bower, whose logs were used to build her seven-sided house, died of lung cancer.”

You have dipped your pen in many different kinds of writings, but not plays. Why not? Have you thought about writing plays and working in the theater?

I am always interested in writing something I haven’t attempted before. I usually wait until someone approaches me with an idea, and then the work takes shape as I mull it over. I have written a play — a radio play — it was called “How Long it Takes to Fall.” I wrote it on a freighter coming from Ireland to Canada in 1972. It was never produced.

How do you gain access to the different energies and interiority asked by the varied genres of writing? Is the process of “switching gears” something you could talk about?

Different aspects of my nature seem suited to different genres. I find a place for my blackly humorous side in personal essays (creative nonfiction). Poetry stems from deep grief, or from falling in love (two sides of the same coin, inevitably). Prose is a deeply neurotic process for me — as Ezra Pound said, “the process of the purgation, and therefore negative in content.” He said poetry, in contrast, was the “positive celebration of an image or thought long pondered.”

Poetry is the most mischievous of all. It has a way of insisting on being written, particularly when I have a deadline for a newspaper column, or a rewrite of a novel that is overdue.

Your newest book of poems, Obituary of Light, is a moving and profound collection that weaves between grief, sadness, contemplation, nature, and silence. How did you juggle with the intensity, privacy and authenticity of specific emotions, energies and images during the process of creating a work of art?

I do not consciously juggle anything when I write. I just sit down, put pen to paper, and I write. It is not an intellectual process. Where poems come from is a mystery, and why they choose to come is a mystery, too.

In Obituary of Light, you also wrote “If you ask me / again what I want it is to make / peace with the part of me that insists / I exist…” Beyond the word, what is meaningful in life for you? How would you like to reach out towards a wider humanity?

I don’t find very much that is meaningful in life. Nature, of course, and a few people. My family. I am surprised when I find people have read my work and feel a connection. I believe a writer’s work has very little to do with her, or him. A reader is looking for something, and finds it in a writer’s work. People read to find out about themselves, not about the writer.

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