Books·How I Wrote It

Michelle Elrick's newest poetry collection started as a blanket fort

The 2015 CBC Poetry Prize finalist discusses the creative process behind then/again.
Michelle Elrick is the author of then/again, a poetry collection. (Scott Munn/Harbour Publishing)

Michelle Elrick was shortlisted for the 2015 CBC Poetry Prize for her poem "crow (v.)" — a poem she included in her new collection, then/again. then/again explores all the places Elrick and her ancestors have lived and what it means to search for, and find, a place to call home.

Below, Elrick talks about what she learned while writing then/again.

A blanket-fort beginning

"I started writing on the topic of home through a performance installation series that I developed called Notes from the Fort. I took a series of blankets that I had made and used them to construct these temporary fort-like structures out on the land. Then I used that structure as a temporary home: a place to go in and document those spaces through writing. That project lasted off and on for a couple of years. I was actively mining the landscape and different places, looking for that moment when the unfamiliar becomes familiar and where home starts to develop in my psyche.

"The material that I produced for Notes from the Fort became the raw material for then/again. It was a starting point."

A cut-and-paste project

"When I wrote the long poems in then/again, I basically cut and pasted and collaged old material where I saw a common emotional thread or a common line of inquiry. Then I found other instances where those images were occurring in previous work. I was able to go through that material and cut, paste, collage — create a skeleton of the poem, then rewrite it following my own tracks.

"I loved working that way. Rather than writing start to finish, these poems are written in chunks and revisited and reworked. It keeps them open. I like that because the more open a poem is, the more space there is for the reader to enter and to make meaning for themselves."

Tell us what you think!

Help shape the future of CBC article pages by taking a quick survey.

Migration, then and now

"I ended up doing a lot of research into my family's home stories and how I came to be Michelle Elrick. I was thinking about the stories of migration and across-the-world travel that ended up landing me here, in this time and in this context. I'm of European descent, so I have a pretty typical Euro-Canadian story. Even so, I did a lot of thinking and research into what it must have felt like or what it means to not just leave your home to move to a different house or city or province in the same country, but to swap cultures: to leave everything behind.

"It's an important thing for us all to be thinking about right now, as we try to understand and be sensitive to those who are migrating from one country to another or looking for a safe place to be. I'm thinking of the Syrian refugee crisis, issues like that. That was on my mind a lot as I was working on then/again. It helped me become more sensitive to what's going on in the world right now."

Michelle Elrick's comments have been edited and condensed.