The Three Rs: Betsy Struthers

June 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Betsy Struthers has published nine books of poetry – most recently All That Desire: New and Selected Poems (Black Moss Press, 2012) — three novels, and a book of short fiction. She also co-edited and contributed to a book of essays about teaching poetry. She is a past president of the League of Canadian Poets. Winner of the 2010 GritLit Poetry Award, the 2004 Lowther Award for the best book of poetry by a Canadian woman, and silver medallist for the 1994 Milton Acorn Award, her poems and fiction have been published in many literary journals and anthologies. Struthers lives in Peterborough, Ontario, where she works as a freelance editor of academic texts.

When did you first know you wanted to write books?

I always wanted to write poems and stories  but wasn’t sure about the book part for a long time. It was enough just to write. I started to think about a book after my first poems were published in The Fiddlehead in 1978, but it took another seven years for a book to come out. Except when writing fiction (the mystery novel trilogy, for instance), I don’t really think about writing a “book” of poems per se. I just write the poems as they come along, usually in creative spurts separated by long fallow periods, until I realize there are enough for a manuscript and then I assemble one, seeing what fits where and how the poems “speak” to each other. In the process of assembly, I write and edit, and rearrange and delete, until I finally I feel the book is done.

What does your day look like while you’re writing a book?  

I am a professional procrastinator. So, I’m at my desk usually by 8:30 in the morning. I turn on my computer, read and write emails, check the news and weather, look at Facebook… Then I’ll turn to my most recent poem and edit it. Sometimes that will lead me to another poem. Sometimes I’ll read a book by a favourite poet as reading almost always leads to writing. Play a game of solitaire. Look up old drafts to see if there’s any nugget there that will spark a new poem. Make lunch. Take the dog for a walk. Play more solitaire… When I have an editing job, I usually turn to that in the afternoons. Morning is my best time for creative work, though sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with a poem in my head which demands to be written down before it’s forgotten.

Do you type or write?

Always type. My handwriting has always been so dreadful that I could never “see” the poetic line and stanza breaks properly unless the poem was typed. I started off with an old Royal typewriter whose “s” and “e” keys would always stick. Since I write a lot of drafts before I’m satisfied with a poem, I went through a lot of paper. It was only after I got my first computer in 1990 that I began to write prose as the ease of putting down my ideas was so novel.

What do you read while you’re writing?

When I’m thinking poems, I read poems, both familiar and new as well as books about poetics (honing the craft). I also like to read reference books and dictionaries of facts and fables as they always open doors to poetic ideas.

In Her Fifties

What have you read recently that you really loved?  

Poetry: Phil Hall, Killdeer; Tanis MacDonald Rue the Day; John Steffler, Helix; Susan Musgrave, Origami Dove.

Fiction: Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot; Kim Thuy, Ru; Michael Crummey, Galore; Patrick DeWitt, The Sisters Brothers.

Nonfiction: Charles Foran, Mordecai; Adam Hochschild, To End All Wars; Robert K. Massie, Catherine the Great.

What are your all-time favourites?

I often reread Lorna Crozier’s books of poetry, especially Angels of Flesh, Angels of Silence, and all of Jane Austen.

You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?

Definitely reading. If all you could do was write, the writing would become pretty boring and self-centred. Reading is always varied, always a window into new ways of perceiving.

What’s your third R, and why?

Relaxing at the lake. Reclining in the hammock under the cedars by the shore while reading and listening to loons and redwing blackbirds. Replaying cassette tapes from the 1980s on the boom box while rain reverberates on the cottage roof….


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