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TTQ'S Toronto Poets 5 Questions Series: ELISABETH DE MARIAFFI

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TTQ'S Toronto Poets 5 Questions Series: ELISABETH DE MARIAFFI

Interviewed by Darryl Salach (The Toronto Quarterly)

The Toronto Poets - 5 Questions Series is a new series initiated by The Toronto Quarterly that is geared to providing the talented poets living and writing in the city of Toronto with a bit of a broader platform in which to explain who they are as poets and what they're writing about these days. The hope is to provide this information to not only lovers of poetry residing in the city but to the casual reader of poetry who might not be aware of some of the names being featured in the five questions series. Ultimately, the hope of this series is to inform Torontonians that poetry is indeed vibrant, alive and kicking ass in our city.

Elisabeth de Mariaffi grew up in Toronto and has recently moved back to the city after residing in a small town for a long stretch. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph-Humber, and in 2007 received the Lina Chartrand Award for Poetry from CV2 magazine. Her poetry and fiction have been regularly published in magazines across Canada including the current issue of CV2, and the forthcoming issues of Descant and The New Quarterly. Her first chapbook, Letter on St. Valentine's Day, was published in late 2009, by The Emergency Response Unit. She is currently working on a new collection of short stories, and is sitting on a poetry manuscript that she feels is not quite ready for publication.

She has most recently served as writer-in-residence with Now Hear This!, where she organizes creative writing workshops for 14 and 15-year-old girls at a Toronto High School. She is one of the wild minds behind Toronto Poetry Vendors, a new small press that sells poetry broadsides from vending machines that are located in the best independent bookstores and coffee houses in Toronto, including This Ain't the Rosedale Library, Type and Ezra's Pound. She is also a member of the Meet the Presses team, an all-volunteer collective devoted to promoting micro, small and independent literary presses, within the Greater Toronto Area.

TTQ- How did poetry first come into your life, and when did you realize you could actually write a decent poem that had the potential of being published?

EdM- The first poem I can remember writing, as a class assignment when I was in grade six, was published in the Toronto Board of Education’s annual anthology. (This probably gave me a false sense of accessibility where publishing was concerned.) It was a slow build. I wasn’t reading anything particularly interesting in high school, but I did go to one of the same schools that Margaret Atwood attended. She wrote an essay once about crossing the football field and feeling the thumb of poetry push down into her skull. (Or something like that.) So we crossed that field, too, and we also wrote poems, and a friend of mine showed me the essay. Then I went off to university and didn’t write poetry at all, I was very involved with student journalism and activism, and generally being a good comrade, but at the end of that degree I fell back into it, and published a poem in The Fiddlehead pretty much right away. I was about twenty-two then. This added to the false sense of accessibility, to be sure, and I think as a result I’ve never been afraid of submitting, despite all the subsequent rejections; that’s the point, really.

TTQ- What are your opinions on the current state of poetry in Canada, and is poetry on the rise or in serious decline in terms of its popularity with the reading public? Who is reading poetry?

EdM- I don’t know how easy it is for me to answer these questions. I’m not sure I really have my finger on the pulse of the reading public, whoever that is. The majority of people I have contact with are poetry-readers, and have opinions on poetry. So if the question is, Who do I think is reading poetry these days, my answer is, All my friends. Who tend to be poets. To be serious, I think poetry is no more in crisis now than it was fifteen years ago, or fifty years ago. Poetry, like any underground movement, is always changing and everyone always thinks it’s threatened. That’s a good thing. If we didn’t think it was threatened, we might get lazy and stop working.

TTQ- You're involved with a couple of different poetry initiatives, a new small-press project called Toronto Poetry Vendors, and you're a member of the Meet The Presses team. What's your personal involvement with these initiatives been like, and do you feel more activism from the Toronto poetry community to help projects like these get off the ground is needed?

EdM- Both Toronto Poetry Vendors and Meet the Presses have had a tremendously positive reception within the literary and greater communities here. I signed on with Meet the Presses last year; as an organization it already had great momentum. We held our 2nd Indie Lit Market at Clinton’s earlier this month, and it was packed. Everyone involved with the collective is fabulous, and all the presses have been enthusiastic. I can’t say enough good things about it.

Toronto Poetry Vendors is a small press I co-founded with the lovely and talented Carey Toane. It’s something that came together very quickly: we started talking about it in January, and by April we had the first two machines up and running, loaded with poems by a roster of fine Toronto writers. We’ve got three machines in place now (This Ain’t the Rosedale Library in Kensington Market, Type on Queen, and Ezra’s Pound on Dupont) plus a traveller that will make the rounds to festivals and press fairs. It’s been a high-energy venture from the get-go: we’ve been amazed by the consistently positive reaction from the community. I could probably place five more machines today; it seems like everyone I talk to wants in.

Aside from my own projects, there’s plenty going on in the scene. Of note, The Toronto New School of Writing opened up in March of this year, sharing space at College and Spadina with indie bookstore and literary hub Of Swallows, Their Deeds, & the Winter Below. Event-wise, things really haven’t slowed down since poetry month in April. Poets are always activists.

TTQ- How important have poetry workshops been to you personally in developing your own style of writing, and do you recommend other aspiring poets consider attending them, and why?

EdM- A good workshop is really valuable. I find that both in formal and informal environments, what matters most is the group. More than guidance, the workshop I think offers permission to play around with form and provides a social framework that’s really important, especially for new writers. It offers community, recourse, discussion.

TTQ- Who are some of your favourite Toronto poets that you find inspiring in some way, and recommend others read, or get out to see read their work live at poetry readings, and in what ways have they inspired you personally? Are you an active participant in some of the local Toronto poetry readings, and is reading your poetry in front of a live audience important to you?

EdM- I just did a reading with Angela Szczepaniak and Natalie Zina Walschots, and both of them were just awesome, highly recommended. There’s a group of poets I feel indebted to as sort of indentured-readers: you’re always influenced by those with whom you exchange work. That’s a long list, but it might include Jacob McArthur Mooney, Jeff Latosik, Leigh Nash, Andrew Faulkner, Angela Hibbs. Stuart Ross and Paul Vermeersch are both really, really fine poets. If you have a chance to listen to Jenny Sampirisi or a. rawlings, you should take it. I think reading in front of a live audience is a bit of a litmus test: if I don’t want to read a poem, that’s a pretty sharp indicator that the work isn’t done.

For more information about Meet the Presses click here

For more information about Toronto Poetry Vendors click here

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This interview was first published in The Toronto Quarterly blog.

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