Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Kayla Altman

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Kayla Altman

Kayla Altman's debut collection of poetry, The Politics of Being Ugly (Guernica Editions), is a collection of bizarre modern fairy tales, full of whimsy and wit. Lillian Allen praises The Politics of Being Ugly, describing it as "the poet as story weaver in a new kind of myth-making." Join Kayla and other authors for Guernica's Third Fall Book Launch on December 7 at The Supermarket.

Today, Open Book is speaking with Kayla as part of our Poets in Profile series. She tells us about the magical childhood book that inspired her to start writing, the poem she describes as "an absurdly wonderful love story" and the best and worst things about being a poet.

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Kayla Altman:

There were no experiences that necessarily lent themselves to being a poet, but there were many that influenced my becoming a writer. When I was a kid, around 7 or 8, my dad read with me all the time – I remember us reading a book of fairy tales from around the world and being mesmerized. I had a copy of Brill Brittain’s The Wish Giver: Three Tales of Coven Tree that was missing a book jacket, so it was a deep green hardcover book with title imprinted on the front in gold lettering. I thought it was a magical and romantic old book. I loved those stories and started trying to write my own fairy tales, and eventually the majority of things that I was writing took the form of poems.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


My grandmother, Anita Sulley, was a writer, and I remember my mum reading one of her poems when I was a kid…I can’t remember all of it, but there were specific lines that always stayed with me.


What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?


"The Owl and the Pussy-cat" by Edward Lear – it’s the most absurdly wonderful love story.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


Toast, discarded shoes and children's craft projects.


What do you do when a poem is not working?


Whenever I start a new notebook I tend to go back to my last book and transfer any writing that never really worked. I go back to it, sometimes taking lines or sections and adapting them to new pieces, or sometimes they just pile up with the other bits and pieces that just won’t work. All those pieces are rewritten in any new notebook, and if they find somewhere to fit, they do. If not, they’re doomed to be rewritten into new notebooks or left behind in old ones.


What was the last book of poetry that really knocked your socks off?


Alligator Pie by Dennise Lee. My sister was talking about how grotesque a book it was to be read to us as children, so I went back and reread it. It’s fantastic! Imaginative and unapologetically Canadian.


What is the best thing about being a poet….and what is the worst?


Best thing: being able to put words to a page and eventually finding some cohesion in the mess.
Worst thing: reading your own work out loud – there’s something profoundly frightening about it.

Kayla Altman is a product of the Toronto landscape, a typically atypical family, and a personal evolution that has pulsed awkwardly between the whimsical and the bleak. After completing a BFA at OCAD University, she went on to study the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. She currently lives in small dusty apartment in a tall building somewhere in downtown Toronto, replete with mismatched furniture and numerous tchotchkes* she can’t bring herself to throw out. (*tchotchkes: also known as bric-a-brac and/or trinkets and/or knickknacks.)

Check out all the Poets in Profile interviews in our archives.

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