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CBC Poetry Prize

Becoming a poet: A passion for language and ideas

There are five names on the shortlist for this year's CBC Poetry Prize. Before we announce the winner, we want to introduce you to the finalists and their poetry. 

Alison Smith talks about emotional inheritance, writing a poem to house her grief, and how "meeting in the focused space of a poem can radically change the way you relate to another person." 

Tell us about yourself.  
I live in a rural community near New Germany, Nova Scotia with my husband and our two sons. I write poetry mostly, but I’ve also written for the stage, radio, and small business.  
What are you currently working on?
I’m revising a collection of poems, which constitutes a backlog from about 2004 when parenting got really intense and I couldn’t seem to finish anything. I’ve also started a new project that plays around with a new-age text from the ‘80’s. 
What inspired you to write this poem?
In the case of “Bluegrass Meteorology” I wanted to say something about what we inherit emotionally, even when we can’t define its source in a historical sense. “The Last Time I Was Alone...” was inspired by losing someone I felt close to, but who remained a mystery. I needed to construct a narrative that would house the particular grief that I felt.  
How long did you work on the poems? 
Someday I would love to track the statistics of a poem in terms of cups of coffee, kilometres of wandering, hours of hanging out with chickens... For now, all I can say is that poems don’t leave my desk for years.
What do you like most about poetry?
Poetry is, simply, my go-to pleasure—I like reading, writing, talking about it. Also, I am interested in how we can relate to others through poetry. “The Last Time I Was Alone...” is about reading poetry to my grandmother and feeling a flicker of recognition when I felt so estranged from her. I’ve also been floored by what can happen when you read/discuss/write/perform poems in prison. Meeting in the focused space of a poem can radically change the way you relate to another person. 

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’m not sure. I was an intense kid and writing has always been my thing. Early on I wanted to be a preacher because I was thrilled by the idea of writing and delivering sermons. I also loved testimonials, which may be one reason I’m drawn to narrative poetry. The ambition to be a minister didn’t last (for all kinds of reasons), but the passion for language and ideas stuck. When my family moved to a university town when I was 16, I babysat for three different families and coincidentally, all three of the mothers were poets. They were genuinely interested in what I was writing—I guess that’s when I began to take myself seriously as a writer.
What other poets inspire you? 
Elizabeth Bishop, Troy Jollimore, Alice Burdick, Jen Hadfield, Wislawa Szymborska—at the moment it’s work by these poets that sends me back to my desk.

Alison Smith lives in New Germany, Nova Scotia, with her husband and two sons. She is the author of two poetry collections, The Wedding House (Gaspereau Press 2001), Six Mats and One Year (GP 2003), as well as the chapbook, Fishwork, Dear (GP 2009).  Her work has appeared in Event, The Malahat Review, Pottersfield Portfolio, and The Gaspereau Review. A recent graduate of Acadia University’s M.A. in English Literature, Alison is revising her third collection of poetry which is populated by meat kings, clear cuts, picklers, sewing circles, prisoners, and piles of fish and dirt.

Photo credit: Félix Godbold-Smith


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