A.E.: How have other Canadian poets influenced your own poetry?
S.H.: I absorbed a lot of Canadian poetry at university, when I was starting to write, and of course the poets you’re reading in those formative years stay with you forever. I was lucky to be exposed to some of our best: Margaret Avison, Irving Layton, P.K. Page, Al Purdy, John Newlove, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Alden Nowlan, Leonard Cohen, Earle Birney, Michael Ondaatje. A number of others I encountered later on my own, and loved (Don Coles, for one). These days I read a lot of Canadian poets my own age or younger, and I’m still being influenced—though in smaller ways, since my voice, for better or worse, is now pretty much formed.
A.E.: Do you have a set thematic preoccupation in your poetry – consider the four collections so far.
S.H.: I think it would be easier for a reader, or psychiatrist, to identify recurring preoccupations in my poems. I’m not sure I’d want to know about it. Our obsessions are our muse, aren’t they?
A.E.: The poetic scene in Canada seems to be very vibrant. Do you find the readership equally alive?
S.H.: Yes. The readership isn’t large—this is putting it mildly—but it’s highly engaged. I used to buy the cliche that only poets read poetry, but now I know a good number of civilian readers as well. It’s heartening. Maybe it’s in the nature of a poetry audience to be highly engaged. After all, we don’t go to poetry for information, say, or for easy narrative entertainment. Poetry takes effort. So as readers we’re knowingly paying for a commodity that’s going to demand even more from us when we get it home. We’re doing it because we’re willing to engage—and because we know that some poetry will repay our efforts with interest.
A.E.: Do you sometimes struggle in what form to present an idea - as prose, poetry or as an essay?
S.H.: In a way, I touched on this one in my answer to your first question: usually when an impulse or idea arrives, it seems a natural fit for one form or the other. Sometimes I get intrigued by material that really needs to be a story. The young McGill student who punched Houdini in the stomach and indirectly caused his death—whatever became of him? I felt it would take a narrative of some kind to explore the question and find out. So I wrote a story. Conversely, one night my daughter pulled glow-stars off her wall and put them on various parts of herself and called me in to see her. She had turned herself into a constellation. I knew that at the heart of this touching, somewhat metaphysical prank, lay a poem. I didn’t know exactly what the moment meant, but I knew if I explored and experimented inside a poem I might find out. Of course, there’s no reason why my daughter’s gesture couldn’t also have been a short scene in a novel. But my instincts said Poem.
A.E.: Steven, thank you for your precious time.
S.H.: Thanks for the questions.
Sentinel Poetry (Online) #41
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF POETRY & GRAPHICS...Since 2002 ISSN 1479-425X April 2006
Editor: Amatoristero Ede