Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Rhea Tregebov

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Rhea Tregebov

Rhea Tregebov is the author of All Souls' (Vehicule Press). Her seventh collection (and her first since 2004), All Soul's confronts the inextricable fears of both change and standing still.

Today we speak with Rhea as part of our Poets in Profile series, and hear from her about the poetry of Raymond Carver, the poetic possibilities of public transit and her tips and tricks for a poem that has stalled.

Find out what inspires, confounds and delights today's Canadian poets by following our series.

Open Book:

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

Rhea Tregebov:

I grew up bookish and often home sick from school, so from an early age lived, to some degree, in my head. But I think it was a junior high school English teacher who really set me off on the road to becoming a writer. She was the only teacher who encouraged us to do creative writing, an unusual activity in those days in the schools, and her considered praise of what I wrote made me believe in my writing.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


This goes back a very long ways, before I could read. My mother is a beautiful storyteller and she had, and still has, passionate convictions about social justice. So I remember listening spellbound as she recited “The Song of the Shirt” by Thomas Hood, a lament for working class oppression. The first verse went: “With fingers weary and worn,/ With eyelids heavy and red,/ A woman sat, in unwomanly rags, /Plying her needle and thread-- / Stitch! stitch! stitch! /In poverty, hunger, and dirt, /And still with a voice of dolorous pitch / She sang the "Song of the Shirt."” I can still hear my mother’s voice reciting it and feel the strength of her belief that this was not how the world was supposed to be.


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


Very tough to pick one. If I had to, I think it might be Raymond Carver’s “Late Fragment.” It’s six short lines, and he does so much with them. People love Carver’s prose, but his poetry is just as good. “Late Fragment” is one of very few poems I’ve memorized, so I think that speaks to how it stays with me…


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


Public transit. When I lived in Toronto, transit was my normal means of transportation. Riding the bus or streetcar or subway created in-between moments when I couldn’t be too task-oriented. So I was both able to engage with the train of thought going on in my head, and to witness the public world around me. The conflux of those two moments, contemplation and observation, often got me going. I started a lot of poems riding the bus or the subway and was particularly happy when one of them was included in the Poetry on the Way program, which used to run on the TTC.


What do you do when a poem is not working?


A few tricks. I try switching pronouns, for one. If I’m writing using an “I”, doing a draft in a “she” or “he” often gives me perspective, even if I end up going back to the first version. I also try switching verb tenses. And just leaving a draft in a drawer for a week or more sometimes helps me get more distance from the work. Actually, if I feel I’m close to figuring out the poem, but just can’t get there at that moment, going for a run and then coming back to the page can be a big help.


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


Oh, again, so many good books to choose from. I have to say I adore Julie Bruck’s Monkey Ranch, which just won the GG. I’ve been reading her work for decades and was so glad that a new book came out after such a long wait. The level of craft is very high in her poetry, but she’s also very engaged with the world, thoughtful, compassionate, the things that tend to mean the most to me in poetry.


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


I find that writing poetry is an incredible high. While when I’m writing prose, composition happens in two phases, concept and execution, with poetry, both things happen at the same time. It’s a very intense experience, physical as much as intellectual and emotional, and I love that feeling. It’s a very heightened form of existence. What’s worst is just how difficult it is to ever really know whether what you’ve accomplished is as good as you intended. Even when the critical response to a work is very good, I seem never to be able to complete get past the self-doubt.

Rhea Tregebov's seventh collection of poetry is All Souls’, released in September, 2012. Tregebov’s poetry has received the Pat Lowther Award, the Malahat Review Long Poem prize, Honorable Mention for the National Magazine Awards and the Readers’ Choice Award for Poetry from Prairie Schooner. Tregebov is also the author of a historical novel, The Knife-Sharpener’s Bell , which won the Segal Prize in literature and was shortlisted for the 2012 Kobzar Prize. In addition to her poetry and fiction, Tregebov has also published five children's picture books. She is now an Associate Professor in the Creative Writing Program at UBC.

For more information about All Souls' please visit the Vehicule Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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

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