CBC Poetry Prize
Alessandra Naccarato: "Poetry is how I see the world"
A desire to get closer to wild coyotes was behind Alessandra Naccarato's poems "Coyote Medicine/Medicine Coyote." The Vancouver writer, performer, and 2014 CBC Poetry Prize finalist shares with us her inspiration behind the piece and how a stanza or line can change how you see the world.
What inspired you to write these poems?
Last winter, coyotes started showing up everywhere. Wet fur on the hood of arctic jackets in the rain. Stories overheard in the grocery store. My aunt writing about the wild dogs in her yard. PETA protests and protests against PETA. They showed up, but always in a fragmented, second-hand way. Through other people's stories, photographs, clothing. I wanted to write my way closer to the coyotes, and as I did that another story showed up. My grandfather kept standing in front of the poem, feeding the dogs in the woods by his house.
Why did you decide to present this work as two poems?
I wanted to explore the tension between re-appropriation and appropriation. Separating the poems helped me to understand—and hopefully express—the way these two things are interrelated but profoundly different.
What other things do you like to write?
I've fallen in love with creative nonfiction. These days, I spend most of my time writing personal essays and memoir pieces. My poetry sneaks into every line, but I love the space nonfiction gives to fully explore a story and its context.
What do you love most about poetry?
Poetry is how I see the world. Fragments, snap shots, interwoven places and times. I love how enormous experiences can be distilled into one line. I love how a stanza can change the way you see a pigeon, or a car engine, or an ex-girlfriend forever. I love how long you have to sit with a poem sometimes before it breaks open. I love what it teaches us about language: how much possibility exists in a single word.
What is one of your favourite poems? Why?
"Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver. It's filled with simple and profound truth. I have it taped up on the wall in my apartment in East Vancouver. I like to watch people reading it for the first time; something in their body shifts right away, their shoulders drop, they nod and grin.
What other poets inspire you?
I want to mention just one: Zaccheus Jackson. His poetry is a testament to resilience; it's raw, honest and beautiful and it needs to continue to travel across our country. He passed onto spirit the other week unexpectedly, after years of travelling across Canada performing spoken word and sharing his life story with young people. A friend of mine once said: “You watch him perform in a high school auditorium, and can’t count on your fingers how many lives he just saved.” His work reminds me to be generous with my story. It reminds me to be grateful for everything I've lived. It helps me understand the power and potential of our stories.
Alessandra Naccarato is a writer, performer and arts educator based in Vancouver, BC. Currently completing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, she has toured nationally and internationally as a spoken word artist and worked with thousands of youth across the country.
Photo by Jacklyn Atlas, courtesy of Alessandra Naccarato