CBC Literary Prizes·Writing Tip

Griffin Poetry Prize finalist Sarah Tolmie's best writing advice: Get away from the noise

The 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize finalist and author of the collection The Art of Dying offers advice to aspiring writers.
Sarah Tolmie is a finalist for the 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize for her collection The Art of Dying. (Aqueduct Press)

Sarah Tolmie is a professor of English, novelist and poet based in Waterloo, Ont. She has been nominated for numerous awards, including the 2015 Pat Lowther Memorial Award and the 2019 Rhysling Award for science fiction poetry. Her latest poetry collection, The Art of Dying, is on the shortlist for the 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize

CBC Books asked Tolmie for the one piece of advice she would give to writers.

"My main writing tip? Take out your earbuds. Then, preferably, crush them with a heavy object. The endless bath of sound that people are surrounded by most of the time is fatal for original composition — of anything, but especially of poems.

"Poems are composed by the little voice in your head, and you have to be able to hear it. You can't if your brain is constantly full of other people's rhythms and words. You also need to be able to hear encountered-in-the-world sounds, including, crucially, your own: your breathing and heartbeat, for instance, the timing of which is absolutely foundational to every kind of poetry in the world.

"Another thing I personally recommend is to get moving — without your earbuds or don't bother. Wandering around your house or anywhere outside, especially where you can encounter other people — who, far from distracting you, are more likely to provide a cue that will lead you to write something than not — will give your brain things to seize on. And it engages many other bodily systems. My experience is that more is more: having to use your proprioception — aka moving in space — your visual system, and all the other parts of you excited by motion will also stimulate the voice in your head. Poetry is the rhythmic delivery of thought. To uncover what your personal rhythms are, lose your playlist." 


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