North of Myth Poetry Night

Joyce Majiski's North of Myth exhibition is now open at the Yukon Arts Centre Gallery in Whitehorse. The images are circumpolar, icy, maritime. There are compasses, caribou, fossils and bones. There's a giant 'please do touch' core box that you can root around in and a sound and light show that will make you feel as if you're inside an ice cave.

It was a huge honour when Joyce asked me if I'd like to write some poems that she would sew inside one of her gorgeous handmade books as part of the show. I'm going to be reading some of those poems at the North of Myth Poetry Night taking place right inside the gallery on Thursday 29 January 2015.

I'll be reading with fellow Yukon poets Michael Eden Reynolds, Clea Roberts and Erling Friis-Baastad. Our host will be author Ellen Bielawski who will facilitate a Q and A session after the readings where we'll get to explore what north of myth means to us all. Doors open at 7 pm, the event starts at 7:30. Everyone is welcome.

Roll up, roll up – free poetry resources

Brick Books has been working hard over the past few months putting together all sorts of free resources for teachers and students of Canadian poetry – and for those who just like reading about poetry of course. Podcasts, interviews, ebooks, maps, readings and reviews: it's all there. It's impressive and it's free.

And to celebrate their 40-year anniversary in 2015, Brick is publishing new editions of their most popular and most taught classic titles: Anne Carson's Short Talks, John Steffler's The Grey Islands, Dennis Lee's Riffs, Marilyn Dumont's A Really Good Brown Girl, Michael Crummey's A Hard Light and Jan Zwicky's Wittgenstein Elegies.

In good company

Pam Chamberlain's In the Company of Animals has now been published by Nimbus Publishing and I'm very honoured to be one of the 37 featured authors. All the stories are about human encounters with animals and, from what I've read so far, it's stirring stuff. I'm working my way through it but with one eye closed, particularly as all the stories are true. It's the same with films with animals in them; I can't watch, even if they're fictional. I can't cope when animals suffer. I suppose there's a writing lesson here, though. If you want to raise the stakes, just put an animal in a vulnerable position and you'll have your reader gripped. That's if they can bear to keep reading.

Yukon writers online

A new writing collective has now been set up in Yukon, called (take a breath) Yukon Writers' Collective Ink. I'm calling it just Ink. We're keeping it informal for now and we're hoping it will be a way for writers and readers to get together to help make events and other projects happen. There are already a few ideas in the pipeline. One of the things I'm keen to work on is a website of Yukon writers. You'd think we'd have one already but we don't. Teresa Conkin of Rabbit Creek Press and I are going to be putting it together, so if you're an author living in Yukon or an emerging writer then I'd love to hear from you.

The writing process – a blog tour

The talented, fellow British poet Tim Cresswell has invited me to take part in The Writing Process Blog Tour in which all sorts of writers around the world are answering the same four questions. It's like a giant game of tag. I've also invited the delightful Yukon writer Marcelle Dubé to take part too. You can see her responses at

The following ramblings feel rather self-indulgent but I'm trying to think of it as one of those question-and-answer sessions that you get at literary festivals and which I love listening to. It's just that this one's online.

What am I working on?
I’m working on a manuscript of poems about extinct animals. At least I hope it’s a manuscript; it could turn out to be just a long series of poems. I’m approaching my chosen subject very haphazardly – serendipitously you might say – and broadly. Perhaps I should say it’s about extinction rather than extinct animals because I keep finding myself writing about the human animal too and our impact on the world. My challenge is to try to see the world outside of the human experience. Poems come to me intuitively and usually in response to something I’ve felt in some way so I don’t really think what I’m trying to do is possible but I’m having fun trying. I know extinction doesn’t sound like a fun topic but it’s a chance for me to get lots of things off my chest. That’s my kind of fun, apparently.

I’m also about to get the revisions to my short story collection, The Birthday Books, from my editor at Hagios Press and am really looking forward to getting going on those.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?
Hmm. Difficult question. It differs in the sense that no two writers can write the same thing. They might choose the same themes, they might have similar experiences to draw upon but the order in which the words end up being put down will never be the same. I think that’s why writing is so magical for the writer as well as the reader. It’s a great comfort that we’re all in this together, sharing this experience we call life, and it’s also deeply satisfying when we’re able to gain insights into others’ lives and ways of thinking.

In terms of what my writing is like, if that’s still answering the question, I write poetry and literary fiction that's grounded in the real rather than the speculative world. Yet even saying that feels restrictive. One of my dreams is to be able to write a speculative story one day and imagine an alternative future. I can’t even say I’m the only British-Canadian writer living and working in the Yukon as my friend the talented writer Patricia Robertson was born in England and lives here in Whitehorse too, although she moved to Canada as a child and I came here in my thirties. And then there are other writers here who are first generation Canadians with English parents.

Going back to my writing, I tend to write about ordinary people living in the same time period as me and making choices about where to be geographically. That doesn’t sound too different, does it? As I said, difficult question.

Why do I write what I do?
I write what’s going on in my head in order to help make sense of the confusion I feel as I go around each day being part of this peculiar human race that’s colonised this world. That’s where the poetry comes from. It’s therapy for me. I seem to write when I don’t know what else to do with the feelings I’m having about something that’s upsetting me. For example, particularly as a result of living here in Yukon, I’ve written poems about meeting people who go hunting and trapping and raise genetically-modified chickens. Behaviour that to me is cruel and unfair. Often these people are my friends. No wonder I get confused. 

The fiction I write usually comes out of an experience I have lived with or have had an emotional reaction to over a long period and that I believe has significance beyond my own witnessing of it. There has to be something necessary about having to tell the story and when I say story I'm talking about my poetry as well as my fiction.

I am also an imitator. I love stories. I love reading novels that I can’t put down and that make me feel heartbroken when I get to the end of them because they’re over. I dream of being able to write like that.

How does my writing process work?
For me to write, I need silence and decent chunks of time, not just a few minutes here or there. I’m not good at dipping in and out of what I’m working on, although I’ll do it if I have to because that’s much better than not doing it at all. I try to write every day, which can be hard because I work full-time, even if it’s just one of those shallow dips. It keeps me connected to what I’m working on and keeps me calm. Having to write each day feels more and more like a compulsion or an addiction as I get older. I get restless, panicky even, if more than a day goes by and I haven’t written anything. Half a sentence can be enough just to feel that, yes, my writing brain is still there inside my head; it hasn’t fallen out onto the pavement to be trodden on and kicked into the gutter.

An idea for a poem or story could come to me at any time, whether I’m at work or walking the dog in the woods or on the bus. When that happens I write it down in my notebook and transfer it to my laptop as soon as I can. I have lots of little notes like that. I don’t go back to all them but it’s a comfort to know they’re there in case the ideas one day stop flowing.

I usually start with such little notes, then expand them with more thoughts and fragments written in that hopefully silent chunk of time. Then I play around with what I have on the page until I have a draft. After that, I’ll keep tinkering with it until finally I can put it away and not look at it. I try not to look at it for as long as I can. Weeks or months ideally – years would be better but I’m too impatient.

Occasionally a whole poem will come to me in one go. It’s still very much a draft but won’t need a huge amount of tinkering. It’s miraculous when that happens.  It’s never happened with an entire story, although a scene might come in that way. That’s when I wonder if the poems exist quite separately from me; I just happen to be in the right place at the right time to be able to download one from the universe.

What people are saying so far

Here are some things that people are saying so far about The Fleece Era, my poetry collection published earlier this year by Brick Books. I'm grateful to Garry Thomas Morse, Adebe deRango-Adem and the Literary Press Group of Canada for not only taking the time to read my book but also commenting on it.

"At times chilling in its honesty, The Fleece Era nevertheless embraces the complexities of human life with warmth and passion."

 Adebe deRango-Adem, Quill and Quire

 "The Fleece Era contains some beautiful poetry, but has a narrative ease to it that will appeal to readers who don’t usually read poetry. The writing is taut yet deep, brimming with energy and openness."

Literary Press Group of Canada

"In her poem 'Neo-Colonialist', Joanna Lilley brushes aside her sensitivities and concerns and adopts a comical tone that is (self-)critical of tropes associated with historical and economical privilege, bringing about a marvelous effect, and this crafty poetic approach amid our obsession with everything North is to be found throughout her collection."

Garry Thomas Morse, Jacket2

Coast to coast tour by Brick Books authors

Starting on 29 April in Victoria and finishing in Fredericton on 15 May 2014, I'll be taking part in a Brick Books reading tour along with the marvellous poets Karen Enns, Jane Munro and Arleen Pare. Stops in between are Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Kingston, Ottawa and Montreal. You can find out more on the Brick Books events page. I'll be reading from my poetry collection, The Fleece Era. Please come along and say hello. I must also add that I'm very grateful to Brick Books and the Government of Yukon Touring Artist Fund for supporting this tour.

Reading in White Rock
I also have the huge honour of being the Semiahmoo Arts annual featured poet during National Poetry Month at the Pelican Rouge Coffee House in White Rock on 28 April at 7:30 pm. This is part of the wonderfully named Readings by the Salish Sea series. Keep an eye on for more details.

The Fleece Era has arrived

My poetry collection, The Fleece Era, (or The Fleece Ear as I keep typing) is now available from Brick Books. You can hear some poems from the book on Brick's website too.

The Fleece Era is being described as 'a sardonic, stinging wake-up call to the complexities of modern existence'. And how do I describe this book myself? Well, it's about the dilemmas of everyday living, from the impact we have on each other to the impact we have on our planet. However hard we try not to hurt anyone or anything, we're going to fail. It's all part of being human. I like to think it's also about acknowledging the beauty, fragility and preciousness of our world as well.

A sardonic, stinging wake-up call to the complexities of modern existence - See more at:
A sardonic, stinging wake-up call to the complexities of modern existence - See more at: