- When did you start writing poetry? What was, and is your inspiration?
I began in high school, not long after my parents’ divorce. Looking back, I see that I turned to writing to sort out my confusion at the time. My world was upended when my parents sold the family house in 1968. I was 13 years old. My parents moved into separate apartments in different cities. My younger sister and I moved out with our mother, about 20 km away from our father. The change felt like we had moved
to a foreign country. In many ways, that was true. My inspiration was initially the lyrics of Joni Mitchell. Her music continues to resonate for me, and millions of other fans. I lean on good literature and music to
take me into poetry.
- How did writing Stay and Never Mind differ from your usual writing method?
I started “Stay” before I began writing “Never Mind” but I got bogged down. I needed more time to study other verse novels. I also needed to collect feedback on an early draft. I turned to middle-grade students at a local school for their opinions and then I set the manuscript aside.
It was during this period that my mother died. I felt numb for a long time and was unable to write. One day, I recalled a letter from the Canadian settler Susanna Moodie (1803-1885). She wrote that once she touched the shores of the New World, she never saw, touched, or heard her mother back home in England ever again. It seemed to be something that she had not anticipated when she and her husband set sail for Canada. Or perhaps she hadn’t let herself dwell on the reality of
separation from her mother and sisters. She was describing her grief and I understood what Moodie was saying. I also heard the voice that led me to invent the character I named Wife. I placed her in a setting similar to Moodie’s. I funnelled all my private grief and longing into Wife and built a story that was far removed from my mother’s life yet was emotionally similar. My mother was lonely in her marriage and eventually left my father for her own “new world.” I wrote into the emotional truth of loss. “Never Mind” taught me how to write in the tradition of the long poem. The book also showed me that I could hold a story in my head while developing poems in keeping with a narrative arc. I spoke to my mother by phone the night before she died. I didn’t know it would be our final conversation. Her last question was about “Stay”. She wanted to know how the book was going. I had put the manuscript away. About three years later, our final conversation returned to me as I was sitting in my office one day. I opened the
file and finished writing “Stay” in about one month.
3. Can you tell us a little about the character Millie in Stay? Is she real, imagined or both?
Millie is smart, observant, and passionate about two things: her family and dogs. She wants her family to stay together AND she wants to adopt a puppy. But Millie’s parents have decided to split-up. Her world has turned upside down but since she’s 11 years old, she’s also selfish in the way that every adolescent is self-focused. Millie wants what she wants: Mom and Dad to stay together in the same house so that she can bring home a puppy and not have to live between two homes. But Dad moves into an apartment where a sign on the front door reads NO DOGS ALLOWED. Millie is an imagined character who is informed by my knowledge and experience of family breakdown.
- What message do you want to convey with the story?
Nothing stays the same, not even our family— our foundational structure. We all must learn to adapt.
- What did you learn when you were writer in residence?
I loved my residency at the library. I learned that hundreds of people have stories and poems inside them. I learned that most people are looking for a little guidance and a lot of encouragement because writing is a solitary and somewhat mysterious activity. I have always turned to other writers for support and was happy to do the same for others.
- When compiling a poetry collection, what is your main objective?
I’m driven by narrative. I like my work to tell a story. I’ve just published my fifth book, a poetic memoir titled “Black Umbrella”. Again, it’s about family dysfunction and again it tells a story. I assembled the book by looking for the narrative arc once I’d written about 70 percent of the poems. I later went back and filled in any gaps in the story. I strive to write poetry that is inventive, accessible, and alive.
- Which poet(s) inspire you?
I read a lot of poetry. I’m currently reading the work of Calgary poet Micheline Maylor, but I often return to Emily Dickinson. I see something new in Dickinson every time I turn to her work.
- What are you currently working on?
I’m in research mode. I’m curious about the concept of ambivalent motherhood.
- How can readers find you?
Go to my website and contact me. I promise to respond and I love hearing from readers. Link:
- Where and how often do you write?
I have a small office on the second floor of my home in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I live with my husband. I disappear into my office for several hours most days.
Saskatoon writer Katherine Lawrence has published four poetry collections and the award-winning novel-in-verse, Stay. Her work has been published across the country and has been long listed twice for the CBC Literary Awards. Originally from Hamilton, Katherine has lived on the prairies for over 35 years. She is a former writer-in-residence for the Saskatoon Public Library and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Saskatchewan. You can find her online at