In Conversation with Sue Goyette

That house you walk by with the kitchen in front in the big bay window, the chalkboard outside hanging above the hydrangea listing what you might first take to be the Daily Special, that's Sue Goyette's house. Pause, and you'll see that the Daily Special is a poem. And that's just one thing. Voltage! Sue's a force.

SUSAN GILLIS: What brought you to poetry in the first place?

SUE GOYETTE: I remember, in my early teens, encountering the voltage in a good poem. I can still recall how startled I was by how the words in a poem relayed a kind of intensity and vitality and I was curious about that. I’d read a lot of novels and short stories but began to read poems to figure out how they were pulling off what they were with the same words everything else used. This intensity, vitality was one of the things that convinced me that there was something going on besides the dailiness and challenges of my own life. That there was a conversation apart from but still somehow fiercely connected to my own experiences and, at first, I was shocked by being addressed in that manner, so directly, then, later, I wanted to respond and add my voice to the conversation. I wanted to be involved mostly as a way of escaping my home life at first. Poetry added a sense of value, of worth to my notebooks and journals and to my life that helped me navigate some pretty tricky times. When I began writing poetry, I realized I could turn those tricky times into something else. This into that. Writing and reading was a revolutionary and rebellious act for me. 

SUSAN GILLIS: You’ve written a lot about the environment of human experience, if I can call it that, or maybe I should say human experience as physical geography; I’m thinking here of the poems of outskirts and Ocean in particular. These days you’re at work on poems about fashion. Is this subject a whole new direction for you, or are there links and precursors in your work?

SUE GOYETTE: I’m curious about the times we find ourselves in. The paradox and the dilemmas; the state of the planet, local, global; our politics; our relationship with poverty and with wealth, our definitions of those things. Oil. Food. The change afoot. Our need for community, for connection, for eye contact and our inability to sometimes make those connections. Our social awkwardness, our anxieties and sadness and our medications. I’m interested in how we inhabit our place, how we adorn ourselves, our relationship with wild, with death, with dreams, with memory, with each other, with the people we lean in to and the people we lean away from. I think a poem is one of the places we can come close to poetry and that’s what we’re all after. The unspeakable, the 100 proof wild, the animal, the thing that touches noses with us and, for a moment, we feel we’ve encountered something immense and real, something elemental and righteous. I’m trying to keep company with our time in my poems while evoking or making room for poetry to graze. I think that curiosity mixed with a good dose of imagination, of humour, hospitality, lots of humility are good ways to maybe coax poetry into the mix. I was writing about fashion and then pharmaceuticals. I see my work as a trail, an attempt at something and the poems connect via their root systems.

SUSAN GILLIS: What are you reading these days?

SUE GOYETTE: I’m grazing right now, between books. I pick books up and then put them down. I’m circling around some essays by Susan Stewart and there’s a book by Sara Ahmed I’m eyeing. I’ve been thinking about Gwendolyn MacEwan and Anne Hebert.

Sue Goyette's most recent books are Ocean (Gaspereau, 2013), and outskirts (Brick, 2011), winner of the Atlantic Poetry Prize. She teaches creative writing at Dalhousie University and has mentored poets through the Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia, Sage Hill, the Banff Centre, and the Blue Heron Workshop.