In Conversation with Eleonore Schönmaier

Every now and then one of Eleonore Schönmaier's luminous images turns up in my computer's screen saver slideshow, and I recall the summer afternoon we shared a piece of cake and a cool drink and talk of poetry in a backyard in Halifax. The conversation continued after we both left town for our homes in other places.

SUSAN GILLIS: How did you come to poetry?

ELEONORE SCHÖNMAIER: I grew up in a tiny northern wilderness settlement, and my sister says I was writing before I was doing anything else. In my early twenties I bought a literary magazine and on the back page there was a creative writing ad; I immediately signed up for the university poetry course. My teacher provided me with enormous inspiration and encouragement. I was a young northern nurse and my teacher helped me to discover that I was also a strong poet.

SG: You're a poet of great sensitivity, and also a skilled photographer. Could you talk about the visual sense and how it informs your work?

ES: I commented recently to my piano teacher that I'm grateful for the fact that when he explains music to me he always does so using visual imagery. He is a composer and he told me that he thinks first in terms of the visual and then the music follows. The same is true for me as a writer. I always carry a camera with me, but I don't always carry a notebook. Once visual images are clear in my thoughts the language of the poem follows. I often write poems in my mind during my daily walks in the forest. As part of the creation process I memorize the poem, and then I have to rush home to write the words down. It is the visual images I carry in my mind that keep both the individual poem and the writing alive in my mind.

SG: What are you finding inspiration in these days?

ES: I never know what I'm going to write until I have written it. I live my life with all my senses on full alert. I soak in my lived environment and when I have a heightened moment of awareness this often ends up in a poem (though I usually don't know this at the moment of actual lived experience). I am influenced by the world in motion all around me.

Eleonore Schönmaier is the author of Treading Fast Rivers (McGill-Queen's University Press) and Wavelengths of Your Song (McGill-Queen's University Press). Her work has won the Alfred G. Bailey Prize, the Earle Birney Prize, the Sheldon Currie Fiction Award, has been translated into Dutch and German, and has been included in The Best Canadian Poetry in English. Read her poem "What We Don't Think of Packing" here.

(Images courtesy of Eleonore Schönmaier)