Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

TTQ's Toronto Poets 5 Questions Series: Robin Richardson

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TTQ's Toronto Poets 5 Questions Series: Robin Richardson

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.

Robin Richardson is both a writer/poet and illustrator. She is 25 years-old and has published her work in various literary and arts journals such as: The Toronto Quarterly, Contemporary Verse 2, The Puritan, Misunderstandings Magazine, Filling Station, The Pilot Project and in the forthcoming issue of the Berkeley Poetry Review.

She is also an active member of the Toronto literary scene, headlining in many poetry-reading series throughout the year.

Though she currently lives in Toronto, she will be moving to New York City in the fall to pursue an MFA in poetry at Sarah Lawrence College.

To find out more about Robin, visit her webpage at:

TTQ: When did you first become interested in poetry and is there a particular poem or poet that inspired you to then try writing poetry on your own?

RR: I've always wanted to be a writer, but I have to admit that poetry was the last form I came to. I had never written poetry until a creative writing class at The Ontario College of Art and Design, and even then, it was only because I had to. I didn't love the class, really didn't feel inspired by the teacher. However, something about the poetry itself was really working with me.

It's funny sometimes how the thing that you least expect is the thing that you are best at. Before then I read fiction, and although I still do now, I am reading more and more poetry. As a result, the biggest influences on my poetry are from fiction writers, in particular Virginia Woolf. Her use of words, the tangential way she has of telling a story, hugely inspires the way I write now.

TTQ: You were recently accepted to Sarah Lawrence College in New York City and will be attending the MFA program there in the fall. Tell us about your academic achievements to date and why the decision to complete your studies in poetry at Sarah Lawrence and not continue them at a university here in Canada. Do you feel the poetry programs in Canada don't stack up to what's being offered south of the border?

RR: I actually received my undergraduate degree in illustration at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Though I had tried a year of English studies at the University of Toronto, I found it was more about essay writing and critical theory, and didn't involve enough actual creative writing. I spent my undergraduate years writing on my own, and attending workshops and courses outside of school.

My decision to attend Sarah Lawrence is entirely a personal one, and reflects in no way how I feel about Canadian Universities. My decision is almost entirely based on my own romanticism: the whole idea of "making it in New York" especially as a writer, seems wonderful. I'm also drawn to the rural, medieval-looking garden-and-tree studded campus. I have to admit, I am embarrassingly influenced by the aesthetics of my environment.

On the more practical side of things, the school offers frequent student-teacher conferences, has a 6-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, and is a great catapult into the literary scene in New York: they host their own poetry festival, which is considered one of the best in the state. Not to mention its overall reputation for producing renowned, original writers.

TTQ: Do you tend to stick to a lot of common themes in your writing or do you think that it's important for a poet to speak on a lot of diverse topics in their poetry and if so why?

RR: Most of my latest poems stick to a fairly limited spectrum of themes. I've been writing a lot about old Victorian themes, character versus physicality...I'm not good at clinically explaining these things, if I were then maybe I wouldn't need to write the poems. My theory is that when something hits you and you become hung on it, use the inspiration for all it's worth and then hope that, once it's all used up, something equally inspiring (and hopefully appealing to others) will come along to take its place.

That's how I work. I don't think a poet can force herself/himself to "be diverse." As soon as I feel I've been exploring the same theme for too long - and try to force myself out — that's when I get stuck. If you're obsessed with flora or old films and think you should move on, you may be doing yourself a disservice. Eventually your mind will gravitate elsewhere. In the meantime, don't waste the inspiration by trying to force yourself into something new prematurely.

TTQ: Do you find that reading your work at live poetry events helps or hinders you personally from becoming a better poet and do you think it's vital for a poet to regularly get up on stage and read in front of a live audience?

RR: Initially I hated the idea of reading out loud. One of my favourite things about poetry is that it's a solitary activity. I love to sit alone with a good book and let the author's world take me over and I hope that someday that's how people will interact with my writing. I have, however, over the last few years been featured in and attended many public readings. There is no doubt this is a very important act in bringing writers, who are otherwise very solitary people, together and into a community setting. I've also found the positive feedback I receive from doing readings has given me the sort of confidence I really need to keep writing even when I begin to doubt myself.

TTQ: Please recommend to our readers three of your favourite poetry books and tell us a little about what impressed you most about the book and poet.

RR: My top three favourite books change constantly. Today this is what they are, in no particular order.

a) Guadete by Ted Hughes — Guadete is a little-known (or so it seems) gem from Ted Hughes. It's a novel in verse about a minister who is broken down and then possessed by the devil. It is told in haunting vignettes that follow the people of his small town as they descend into chaos under his influence. I can't say enough about his book. It's so beautiful and so well done.

b) Crabwise to the Hounds by Jeramy Dodds — This book is much better known amongst Canadians right now, as Jeramy Dodds is winning multiple awards for this one. It's good old-fashioned collection of about seventy poems that are both thoughtfully executed and interesting in their content.

c) Lord Weary's Castle by Robert Lowell — It's been in my bag for weeks now. The poems have just the right mix of narrative, innovative form and emotion, and are the type of poems I hope to one day be capable of writing. I especially love the first poem in the collection: "The Exile's Return."

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This interview was first published in The Toronto Quarterly blog.

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