Short Story Prize: Readers
Meet the readers: Sachiko Murakami
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, the Poetry Editor of Insomniac Press delves into the most striking entries she received and chats about what makes a poem great to read.
Tell us about yourself. Where do you live and what do you write?
I am from Vancouver, but I live in Toronto. I write poetry, and have been at work on a novel for some time.
What's your day job?
It's a bit of a hustle, this business of being a poet. I've worked in publishing and in communications on and off for a few years now—a little more off than on. Lately I have been teaching poetry workshops, and I am Poetry Editor for Insomniac Press.
What's your literary street cred?
Is this where I command your respect by listing my achievements? Most of my achievements have been in service for the literary community. I've worked for a number of presses, journals and literary organizations in Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto. I just passed off hosting duties of a Toronto reading series (Pivot Readings at the Press Club). I'm taking a break to just write right now, but generally I like to be in the thick of it. Oh, and I've written two books of poetry—The Invisibility Exhibit and Rebuild.
Why did you want to be a reader for the CBC Poetry Competition?
Dedication to service for my literary community! Lack of a day job!
What do you like most about poetry?
It jostles my understanding of language, of experience, of being. It breaks me open.
Where did you read the entries?
In my house, in the few days after we moved in. Reading poetry > unpacking boxes.
When you’re reading hundreds of poems and trying to choose the most exceptional ones, what are you looking for?
Confidence. Skill. Surprise.
Can you describe a couple of the entries that struck you as standouts?
The Tenor and the Vehicle—In the first poem, "White bowl, three lemons," I was grabbed by the persistent rhetoric pull of the repeated "ifs" in the first stanza, and then hooked by the palindromic turn of the second:
If only I hadn’t seen the baby Bonobo
with the cleft palate. If only the leg
braces didn’t stick out from under the little
boy’s too short-short pants. If the mute girl
with a mop of curls had sung
Barrett’s Privateers, and the paraplegic had
danced down the hallway. If only
we were communicating. If only
you loved me and our bodies
weren’t so ugly and I hadn’t noticed
your naked totter towards the bathroom
late at night. I would have seen
what’s left—white bowl, three lemons.
White bowl, three lemons.
What’s left? Late at night,
I would have seen your naked totter
towards the bathroom if only
I loved you and our bodies
weren’t so ugly. If only we were
communicating and the seagull
on the eastern beach could lift his tar baby
feathers and sashay into sky.
Confidence! Skill! Surprise!
In the entry's following poem, "Locusts", this impulse of referring back to lines to break them open continues, although more loosely, though no less cheekily. "Your wife is also a poet. / You mentioned / she likes the smell of tangerines; that she leaves / them sitting on the sill until they wither / like the skin of the elderly." The next stanza, separated by an asterisk—which had, for me, the effect of a significant, reflective pause—comes as an afterthought: "I do not know your wife, except for the bits about tangerines." and the next, one step further: " I do not know you, except for the locusts."
The poems of Science Lessons are full to the brim—with urban coyotes, failing salmon, and bits of dead animals stored in a freezer. Full though they are, not a word's out of place. These poems were breezily elegent, sharp of sound, and haunting in their depictions of modern humans encountering the wild: "we can't / bring ourselves to unwrap / the black plastic, touch the scalded / flesh, gelatinous eyes, can't admit / one day we too will be come exhibits: / Modern Woman with G4 phone, / note the onset of android thumbs."
What is it about a poem that makes you put it in the YES pile?
See: Confidence. Skill. Surprise. Language that challenges me.
Having read all these poems, do you have tips, any dos and don’ts for aspiring poets?
DO - READ POETRY! TALK POETRY! Poetry is written in context and in conversation. So read as much as you can and then get out there and talk about it. Get people to read your poems. (Your cat doesn't count.) Join a writing group. Start a writing group! Go to readings. Talk to poets. DON'T: write anything that doesn't surprise you. Don't be afraid to fail.
What did you enjoy most about the experience?
Realizing how many Canadians are secretly writing poetry! Keep writing, Canada!
Sachiko Murakami is the author of the poetry collections The Invisibility Exhibit (Talonbooks, 2008), a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and Rebuild (Talonbooks, 2011). She has been a literary worker for numerous presses, journals, and organizations, and is Poetry Editor for Insomniac Press. She is the initiator of the online collaborative poetry projects Project Rebuild and PowellStreetHenko.ca. Born and raised in Vancouver, she currently lives in Toronto.