Stephanie McKenzie, Room's 2015 Poetry Contest Winner

Interview by 
Rose Morris

What does winning Room's poetry contest mean to you?

First, I think winning any writing contest is a boost of confidence. Winning the contest is not about money per se (though the monetary prize is much appreciated). It’s more about having your writing endorsed, having your writing recognized as proficient, as something others want to read. I’m also delighted to have won an award in Canada’s oldest literary journal by and about women. As a feminist, I’m extremely proud to have my name associated with the journal and prize.

Is poetry the only thing you write or do you work in other genres?

No. I’ve been writing a lot of fiction these days—fiction based on my travels in the Caribbean. I’m writing a sequence of stories that compare living experiences in what I call “Down South” and “Up North.” I use these big descriptors because I live on an island (Newfoundland) and I have lived in and travelled much of the Caribbean, and I am reticent to speak about specific places in which I did not grow up. However, there are many differences and similarities between regions, and I’m finding it a rich experience to consider how worlds are similar and different.

Can you walk us through your creative process for "Cut from the Guyana Journals"? Do you have any particular rituals when you write?

I began that poem when I was living in Guyana with the aid of a Canada Council Grant for Professional Writers. What I brought back from Guyana—in terms of writing—shares little resemblance with what I have honed since being back in Canada. I assiduously took notes while in Guyana and wrote poetry and journaled every day, but I edited and re-edited my writing when I returned to Canada. “Cut from Guyana Journals,” as you will see, is a collection of snapshots or images—somewhat modernist inspired (with its skeletal, sparse style). I’m very nervous about being an observer of another culture, and, so, I tend to write in collections of images when I write about other places. I’m not even saying I can “own” images—because images tend to produce narratives in and of themselves. But the images—which constituted different movements in the poem—did tell some truth about what I had witnessed living in Guyana. I felt I had the right and, perhaps, responsibility to record or “poeticize” my experiences.

As for writing rituals, I’m up about 4 a.m. and write for a long as I can—before the day begins. I write every day and feel the morning is the crispest time for my mind to create. I don’t send out everything I’ve written, but, sometimes, years later, I’ll pull something out of the pile and rewrite and rewrite it until something emerges with which I’m happy.

Where can readers who enjoy "Cut from Guyana Journals" find more of your stuff?

I have a blog—which I need to maintain more consistently: stephaniemaymckenzie.com And in the collections Saviours in This Little Space for Now: Poems for Emily Carr and Vincent van Gogh (Cliffs of Moher, Salmon Poetry, 2013), Grace Must Wander (Cliffs of Moher: Salmon Poetry, 2009), Cutting My Mother’s Hair (Cliffs of Moher: Salmon Poetry, 2006).

Who are some of your main creative influences?

Dionne Brand, Pamela Mordecai, John Steffler, Michael Crummey, Ezra Pound (and other modernists), Vladimir Lucien, Tanya Shirley, Sue Goyette, Sylvia Plath, and many more. Dionne Brand is actually my favourite poet: I think she’s the most important poet writing in Canada today. If I could write even one line like her, I’d be very happy.

What are you reading currently?

Patrick Lane’s There Is A Season and Al Pittman’s Collected Poems. I’ve also just re-read all of Pamela Mordecai’s five single-author collections of poetry and her first novel, Red Jacket (a finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Award of Canada).

What you writing currently?

I’m trying my hand at the long poem. Also, I’ve just rewritten and revised a series of short stories based on my travels in the Caribbean and living in Newfoundland. I’ve also just completed a poetry manuscript about the Caribbean and Newfoundland and am hoping some publisher might be interested in it. It took me well over five years to produce something I’m fairly happy with.

Thank you for taking the time to chat with us!

I just want to say thank you to Room magazine for its interest in and endorsement of my writing.

Rose Morris is a Room's Fiction Coordinator and a member of the Growing Room Collective. Look for her debut issue on the theme of "Food" co-edited with Kayi Wong in our 40th volume, out in 2017.

 

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