Interview by Alison Braid
Laisha Rosnau received a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, where she was the Executive Editor of PRISM international. Pluck is Rosnau’s most recent book of poetry, published by Nightwood Editions in 2014. She has written two other collections of poetry, the Acorn-Plantos People’s Poetry Prize-winning Notes on Leaving, and Lousy Explorers, as well as the bestselling novel The Sudden Weight of Snow. Her poetry has been published in Canada, the US, Australia, and the UK. Pluck addresses the complications of parenthood and sexuality with arresting images and language that is fresh and focused.
The first book you wrote, The Sudden Weight of Snow, was fiction. How do you find the transition between writing fiction and writing poetry? Do both come equally naturally?
The Sudden Weight of Snow was the first book of mine that was published. I’d been writing poetry and prose concurrently for a decade before then—short fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, long fiction. My first novel, The Sudden Weight of Snow, and my first collection, Notes on Leaving, were written in the same time period and published two years apart. So, yes, writing both poetry and prose comes quite naturally! I’ve never done otherwise. I’m rarely in the same part of the process at the same time, though. I’ll usually be researching or mucking about in the early draft stage of one genre while working the mid-draft and editing stage of the other. I’ve written as much prose as poetry (heaps more, in fact) but published more poetry in this last decade.
What is your process usually like when writing a poem?
I don’t know if there is a usual process. Oh, yes, there is! I read other people’s work—I go back to my bookshelf, go on-line, read the literary journals I have subscribed to that year (I switch up yearly.) Then I write a fast, raw, messy first draft and go from there. The longest length of time from first draft to publication so far has been 22 years (from a first year creative writing class to my most recent collection.) I have a feeling I’ll beat that some day.
Pluck gives a beautiful array of different spaces. There’s a lot of feminine space, but also physical places that feel firmly embedded in the natural world. How do you find your location influences your poetry? Do you often write from the landscape of home? Photographs? Memories of place?
I walk a lot. I think that influences my writing, not only by moving physically through landscape, but the rhythm of walking, the methodic quality of it. I also love biking, swimming, and skiing—anything rhythmic and solitary. I’m remarkably unobservant while outdoors though, as I’ve discovered being married to a biologist who notices so many details about the natural world—and remembers them. I like to say that I take in more of a “feeling” of a place than actual details! This is what I tell myself.
I don’t feel like I often consciously set out to write a poem about a particular landscape, but I find it difficult to separate my experience of the world from an experience of place. A big exception to that, perhaps, was my second collection, Lousy Explorers. The entire collection was written while I lived in Prince George, in the north-central interior of BC, and was published only a few months before I moved south. It’s very much an homage to that place, that landscape, that time, but I didn’t set out to write a collection that was so united by place; the north will do that to a writer, I suppose—take over.
Parenthood is a major focus in Pluck. How do you imagine your children will grow up with your poetry? Do some of your poems serve as ways to document and preserve memories of your own children, or your own experience of them as children?
I was quite conscious of writing about my children, and the fact that they might one day read the poems. I tried to make the work more about experiences of motherhood, rather than about my own children as individuals. I believe I was able to do this—I don’t know that there’s much in any of the poems that identifies either child, though there is a lot about me or an imagined mother figure very specifically. So, I see the poems as documenting experiences of that phase of parenthood, rather than memories of my own children.
One exception I can think of now (there are likely more) is in the poem “Pluck” when I describe a little girl spinning circles, wearing nothing but a pair of gumboots. This is very much my own daughter—but I was also trying to say something larger. Of course this girl can spin around in nothing but a pair of boots—but not all girls, everywhere, can. So it’s about her specifically and about a larger question of what it means to be a little girl in different families and cultures.
As for my children growing up with my poetry, they’ve been to several poetry readings, both my own and others, and they think of writing poetry—or writing any kind of book—as an option of something people can do. I show them the author photos of people they know, tell them when friends are on CBC, and I think they have an understanding that we have both a public side—the books, the interviews—and a private life, the one they know. I like to believe they’ve been schooled early and often in what it means to be a working artist.
Many female writers have written while also bringing up children—Munro, Plath, Glück—to name a few, but I don’t know many who focus on parenthood with the same intensity that you do in your writing. Who are some favourite authors or poets you know who do this and have found inspirational?
While writing Pluck, some of the poets I returned to were, yes, Louise Glück, also Margaret Avison, Anne Carson, Damian Rogers, Sina Queyras, Sharon Thesen, Rosmarie Waldrop, C.D. Wright. Of those, all are women (I was also reading and rereading male poets, but we’ll stay with the women for now!), some are mothers, and I’m not sure how many write about motherhood. I wasn’t looking for that, specifically. A strong early influence on me was Sharon Olds, who has written quite explicitly about motherhood. It’s been twenty years or more since I was in my Sharon Olds phase, but I believe those early influences stay with us, in some way, forever.
Alison Braid is a student at the University of British Columbia, where she is pursuing a BFA in Creative Writing. Her poetry has been published in The Claremont Review and shortlisted for the Winston Collins/Descant Prize for Best Canadian Poem.