Stepping Inside the Waves: Jeanette Lynes in Conversation

photo of Jeanette Lynes by Deb Cragg
You're as likely to meet Jeanette Lynes while you're haunting a thrift store as visiting the book table at a literary festival. And when you do, the conversation is likely to take surprising turns.

SUSAN GILLIS: How did you come to poetry--or, if you prefer, how did poetry come to you?

JEANETTE LYNES: Poetry came to me in waves. The first wave was church hymns during my rural childhood. I always thought hymns were beautiful and poetic, profound, and often sad. My poetry-loving mother was a key influence, too. The second wave happened during university, an undergraduate course I took called ‘Introduction to Poetry’. Again, as with the hymns, I had this sense of an encounter with something profound. The poetry course showed me that poetry could work on so many levels, emotional for sure, but philosophical as well. I took more poetry courses in graduate school – the next wave - and added theoretical, conceptual, and experimental to the levels on which poetry could work. Then I taught poetry – yet another wave that brought its own challenges and joys. After becoming disenchanted with academic writing in the mid-1990s, I began writing poetry. This proved to be the most satisfying poetic engagement of all. I felt like I was leaving the sidelines, no longer being just a spectator, but stepping inside poetry. Entering a big room that offered the opportunity to meet live poets (as opposed to dead ones studied in university), and become part of the astonishing community of practicing poets in Canada and beyond. This community included my mentors and peers in the low-residency MFA program at the University of Southern Maine. I continue to write, read, listen to, and teach poetry, a great honour.

SG:Many of your poems tell stories through unexpected and comedic events. Reading them, I'm often aware of sweeps of movement: little crescendos, slides and leaps. Do the waves of poetic discovery you describe apply to how you write poems, too?

JL: Great question. To be honest, I really struggle with narrative poetry, the whole concept. I mean, If I love stories so much, why do I not just write fiction? I *do* write fiction, but I love how poems accommodate stories, too, and even anecdotes. One of Canada's great anecdotal poets was Al Purdy. Another was Bronwen Wallace. There are others. I like the idea of carrying on an anecdotal tradition. But I worry that narrative/story/anecdote is at the expense of the compression that poetry is known for - maybe this is all an enabling angst. but sometimes it's just an angst, and not in a good way (smile). But there's no question I love how poetry may accommodate the discursive, in other words, the story, the 'talky' poem. But then is it still poetry? I'm not sure. My poems are ragged for sure. I guess we just have to be the poets we are. I'd rather be lots of other things - ie. cool, edgy, experimental - but I'm not. I've never told anyone this (smile again).

SG: What's inspiring you these days?

JL: Other poets inspire me now - what a great community we are- I mean, yes, there are factions and some unpleasantness around that (ahem,witness certain recent blog posts by poets who shall remain unnamed) but even with our differences I think we share more in common than not. I went to the Purdy picnic at the A-frame in Ameliasburg this summer and that event inspired me and made me think of the first time I became aware of Canadian poetry, and what a revelation. My students inspire me. Poets I read inspire me. I have heard some young poets read and have read their work and I am blown away - I think the future of Canadian poetry is very healthy. And things I read inspire me hugely. I've been reading a lot of John Ashbery this summer. And Mary Ruefle, American poet. And Lucy Brock-Broido. But my fellow Canadian poets always inspire me, too. The idea that poetry can even continue to exist in this country of ours, given the current state power apparatus, inspires me to keep going.

Jeanette Lynes is the author of six collections of poetry and one
novel. Her seventh book of poems,
Bedlam Cowslip: The John Clare
, will be published by Wolsak and Wynn in 2015. Jeanette is
coordinator of the MFA in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan.

Read her poem "John Clare in Love" here.