In Conversation with Shannon Webb-Campbell

Shannon Webb-Campbell makes things--great hats, terrific appetizers--and she makes things happen. A slow summer evening of poets in a starlit backyard; a bright winter night in The Company House. She talked to me about her practice of poetry and criticism and making a place at the table for them.

SUSAN GILLIS: How did you come to poetry in the first place?

 SHANNON WEBB-CAMPBELL: I don’t think we find poetry, poetry finds us. It comes sniffing at our ankles, and tries to look up our skirts. Poems arrive, usually in the moment when you need them most. They blow in from some far off land, bump into you at the airport, and tap dance off the pages.

I was very apprehensive to call myself a poet. Like anything, giving name to something comes with series of internal questions. Am I poet enough? I have been writing poems in one form or another for several years, but never had the nerve to call myself a poet. It wasn’t until last fall, during the start of my MFA in creative writing at UBC’s Optional-Residency program, I found myself in Susan Musgrave’s class, and answered poetry’s wild call.

SG: How do you combine the practice of criticism with your poetry practice – the lyric and the language?

SWC: Truth is the fabric of poetry. You can't lie to your readers in a poem. They'll know. In some ways, poetry is the purest form of non-fiction. We all struggle enough as humans being alive, and we take comfort in what we read. Poems are place to be held.

In terms of the lyric and the language, much like criticism, poetry is conversation. In my experience, I've found poetry to be a little more forward thinking than criticism, certainly more renegade than academia. There is more room, no rules.

I am drawn to reviewing poetry because of its invitation for embodiment, an exchange between head and heart. Poetry is often overlooked in arts sections, and has a small seat even in national literary magazines. Part of my critical work is to pay witness, to make sure poetry still has a place at the table, a voice amongst the cacophony of fiction and non-fiction.

SG: What’s inspiring you these days?

SWC: I am inspired by the ocean. Sue Goyette. St. Germain Elderflower liqeuer. Long naps. Tulips. Anne Carson. Wool socks. Undergrowth. Sylvia Plath. Accordions. Newfoundland. Mary Oliver. Blackberries. The way a dress hangs. Brian Brett. Claw-foot bathtubs. Lemon zest. Eden Robinson. Wood stoves. Susan Musgrave. Teacups. Christmas lights. Red leather boots. Gramophones. Loss. Bird sanctuaries. Ancestry. Elizabeth Bishop. Water. Swimming. Music. Sue Sinclair. Bell Island. Champagne. Truth. Anne Michaels. Connection. Strangers. Moonlight. What lives exists below the surface of the Atlantic. Weather. Home.

Shannon Webb-Campbell is CWILA's current Critic-in-Residence. She lives in Halifax.