Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Poets in Profile: Tim Lilburn

Share |
Tim Lilburn

One of Canada's most beloved poets, Tim Lilburn's newest book is Assiniboia (McClelland & Stewart).

Tim talks to Open Book as part of our Poets in Profiles series, chatting about favourite poems, how to fix pieces that aren't working and the best thing about being a poet.

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?

Tim Lilburn:

No single experience. I just loved, I guess from my early teens on, how poetic language could be both rhythmic and penetrating. I still do. The speed and apt linkages seemed to achieve a truth that I found and find surprisingly deep. This was actual naming going on, or at least an imitating of something. I was a poetic Pythagorean from the get-go.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


When I was younger, Frost and Dylan Thomas were important poets for me, later Lowell, Suknaski, Milosz. The intellectual and linguistic rhythms of the prophets also were in there somehow as well. There was a kind of sensuality in them I found attractive, a musical and an emotional eros.


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


I love the sprawl of the great oral poems, the Kalevala and others. This sort of composition requires a multiplicity of writers and generations.


What do you do when a poem is not working?


Just wait. Poke at the embers from time to time. It will eventually flare.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


I used to work as a farm labourer in the Kitchener-Elora area, and drew much from this. I also pull quite a number of ideas — compositional, thematic — from visual artists (Grant McConnell, Jan Wyers, Janet Werner, James Lindsay, among many others) and my reading (most recently in neoplatonism, neurology, ideas about art practice in the Upper Paleolithic). I’m not a scholar, but am reading out of a kind of panic: how to be? How to be here?


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


Let me give a few. Joe Denham’s Windstorm, Gjertrud Schnackenberg’s Heavenly Questions, Dionne Brand’s Ossuaries, Rae Armantrout’s Money Shot. I haven’t seen the last book but heard Armantrout read from it at Ottawa’s wonderful Versefest.


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


The best thing is the way you are able the think in poetry. There is a range there that philosophy, as it’s traditionally conceived, can’t match (woe to philosophy, by the way, because of this incapacity). There is no worst. Poets often suppose what they do is marginal, but in fact poetry is at the center, intellectually and politically.

Tim Lilburn is the author of seven previous books of poetry, including To the River, Kill-site and Orphic Politics. His work has received the Governor General's Award and the Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award, among other prizes. Lilburn is also the author of two essay collections, Living in the World as if It Were Home and Going Home, and edited two other collections on poetics. He teaches at the University of Victoria.

For more information about Assiniboia please visit the McClelland & Stewart website.

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

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


Open Book App Ad