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Short Story Prize: Readers

Meet the readers: Jennifer Still

We're introducing you to the 10 talented Canadian poets who helped narrow down more than 2,300 entries for the 2011-2012 CBC Poetry Prize to create the longlist.
Up next, Winnipeg-based poet and 2012 John Hirsch Award winner Jennifer Still on balancing family and writing time, and what makes a poem "light up" for her. 

StillTell us about yourself. Where do you live and what do you write?
I live in a state of longing and wonder in Crescentwood, Winnipeg. Might sound painful, but it's not. My family and I have a tall, yellow house with a brass (unoccupied) birdcage on the front lawn covered in morning glories and pumpkin vines. I document the poetic, almost constantly, and when I'm extra lucky I follow the words towards a poem. Lately, sometimes, I write songs.

What's your day job?
My days and nights are filled with family life which mostly involves caring for, learning from, being challenged by, my daughter and son. Poetry happens within this time, somewhere between home and schoolyard. I also read poetry as an editor for the stellar lit journal CV2.  
What's your literary street cred?
Depends what street.... In fact, my second collection, Girlwood, is named after my childhood street, a street I love dearly, Girdwood Crescent. In formal terms, I am the recipient of the 2012 John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer, which is promising. Girlwood was nominated for the 2012 Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry and an earlier version won the John V. Hicks Manuscript Award. My first collection, Saltations, was nominated for three Saskatchewan Book Awards. I am also a proud co-founder of the zany chapbook publisher JackPine Press.
Why did you want to be a reader for the CBC Poetry Competition?
To read poems, many good poems, and get paid for it? It doesn't get much better than that!
What do you like most about poetry?
Its attentiveness to the world. The imaginative way it reaches/opens toward the unknown. The boundless and finite nature of its attempt. A pen poking between stars.
Where did you read the entries?
Mostly in my office loft. A small, bright, south-facing attic space. 

When you’re reading hundreds of poems and trying to choose the most exceptional ones, what are you looking for?
I try to read in small bursts, to stay fresh to the work. I read for spark. Is the language "lit" in the sense that it is an act of creation, discovery? Are the words dowsing bravely? There's so much that can contribute to a poem, but at its core, for me, there must be a pulse—something focused, pressured enough to evoke its own atmosphere.
Can you describe a couple of the entries that struck you as standouts? 
I tended towards pieces that were extended in some way. Sequential, lingering, circling works. Somehow I wanted to feel that the poet was compelled to write this, that the poem was driven by a sense of discovery. "The feather calls me by my true name" definitely holds this sense of encounter for me. With its inventive, woven, leaping fragments, it was the first poem I put in the "yes" pile. And though I returned to it many times throughout my readings, it continued to spark with a sense of whimsical connection and imagistic precision each time I read it. 

I immediately admired "Hart's Tongue" for its gentle, lyrical act of inquisition, the thoughtful, delicate pressing of landscape for meaning, and then the resulting quiet assertiveness of its discoveries. 

"On the gravity of light (10 exposures in the manner of Francesca Woodman)" the subject of light is approached through the conceit of artistic form--sculptural (as in the slender, pillared poem "Carytid"), primitive (Lascaux), chemical, mythological. I appreciated the wide scope of this poet's approach inside such contained, snapshot-crisp stanzas.
What is it about a poem that makes you put it in the YES pile?
Resonance. Risk. A sense of astonishment. 
Having read all these poems, do you have tips, any dos and don’ts for aspiring poets?
I would say that it's a good sign if you really love what you've written. Put something out there that you are really charged about, and nothing less. 
What did you enjoy most about the experience?
Being delighted by bright, curious poems.

Jennifer Still is the recipient of the 2012 John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer. Girlwood (Brick Books, 2011), her second book of poems, was nominated for the 2012 Aqua Books Lansdowne Prize for Poetry. Jennifer will be artist in residence at the Manitoba Arts Council Deep Bay Artist Studio this summer where she will be working on a new collection. 

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