Poets in Profile interview series with Open Book – Rosemary Clewes

1. Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?
We camped on the shore at St. Mary’s Bay just five miles from Cortez Island in the Canadian West. The salal grew so thickly by the shore as to be impenetrable. Thus we were left with twenty feet of beach and the tide coming in. Our kayaking instructor build a fire like a small log house and after dinner we sat in a circle around it. We passed around a boy’s adventure book and took turns reading to each other until it was finished. We moved the fire inland a tad, and by the light of the moon and blazing stars, he began to read from Mary Oliver’s “New and Selected Poems”. It was then that I decided to become a poet.

2. What is the first poem you remember being affected by?
Learning poems was part of the Literature curriculum when I went to school. The words, “Norse am I when the first snow falls;…” from Song of the Ski by Wilson Pugsley MacDonald (1880 – 1967) stills ring in my ears. I have just googled it and I understand why I loved that poem then. MacDonald has written it with a rollicking rhythm and it flies “with a dauntless air” through snow ’scapes and pine forest where “the snow is fresh and the banks are deep”. Just the poem for a ten year old, who later skied in the Austrian Alps with the “white wind” and under “the roofless world”.

3. What one poem—from any time period—do you wish you had been the one to write?
I would like to have written (anyone lived in a pretty town) by E.E.Cummings. I like his ‘loose’ mind.

4. What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?
The most unlikely and the most obvious inspiration has been the natural world, which has inspired me.

5. What do you do with a poem that just isn't working?
When a poem isn’t working, I put it aside and let it cook. If I am still unhappy and it retains some energy, eluding me still, I may write quick, non-stop prose ‘blasts’ or simply turn it on its head. “What am I trying to say?” is always a best question.

6. What was the last book of poetry you read that really knocked your socks off?
My socks have fallen off my feet many times, but the longest lasting love and the one I still turn to for all kinds of help and comfort is “Four Quartets” by T.S.Eliot.

7. What is the best thing about being a poet…and what is the worst?
The best thing about being a poet is the self-reflection that digs until it finds the truth I am reaching for. The worst part is waiting for a publisher’s response assuring me that my dear manuscript has truly left home for good and will become a book.