Everything Feeds into Everything Else
My writing day fluctuates with the demands of my outer world. This past year brought forth extra obligations with publishing two books—my debut novel Quarry and my sixth poetry collection The Celery Forest.
To maintain a link to my inner life I keep a notebook, a place to jot ideas, musings, dream fragments, quotes, snippets of dialogue, descriptions—things that spark my imagination. When I do have time to write, I’ll go back to mine them further.
Play is an important part of my practice. I try not to think about “writing a poem.” The aim is to engage with language, imagery, and mysteries that intrigue. Writing poetry is a process of discovery. I don’t know what I have to write until I’m writing it. My inner world is very important to me: dreams, intuitions, feelings. I try to follow what I’m drawn to and explore the energy there.
Each time I complete a project fear rises—is it the end of my writing journey? Thankfully something new always comes up so I know fear is part of my creative process— a gateway into new psychic territory.
Morning is my favourite time for writing. I’m closer to the dream world then. Many of my notebook entries come from dreams. Sometimes an entire poem appears before my eyes. Unfortunately I’m not quick enough to get it down before it disappears. Very frustrating!
Synchronicity, patterns and connections confirm I’m on the right path. Little signposts that signal: Keep going.
Reading is crucial to my practice. It helps turn my mind inward, away from worries and fears and the gremlins of everyday life.
I write my drafts, both poetry and prose, in a spiral notebook. I need to feel the ink flowing from my body as my mind releases words and the rhythms inside them. I do this in a reclining chair by our front window and keep the blinds half shut to minimize the temptation to people watch. Once I’ve done all I can with a draft, I’ll head to my study and type it out onto the computer.
Exercise also plays a role. Cardio, weights, yoga, walking. This helps unite my body with my mind and keeps my imagination fresh.
When life becomes too busy with teaching, readings, and other commitments I ache to write. Even a small bout helps dissipate the growing tension. Writing grounds me. Themes and subject matters circle round with new angles: the water-filled quarry I grew up beside, the parents I lost too early in life, childhood, nature, cancer, relationships, ghosts. Much of my past surrounds me in my study, on walls and shelves. Dolls, toys, photos of my parents, the quarry, memorabilia from trips, books I love. This too is a comfort.
There really is no on/off switch to being a writer. I’m always thinking about some aspect of the art. Everything feeds into everything else.
Catherine Graham is a Toronto-based writer of poetry and fiction. Among her six poetry collections The Celery Forest was named a CBC Books Top 10 Canadian Poetry Collection of 2017 and appears on their Ultimate Canadian Poetry List. Michael Longley praised it as “a work of great fortitude and invention, full of jewel-like moments and dark gnomic utterance.” Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects was a finalist for the Raymond Souster Award and CAA Award for Poetry and her debut novel Quarry won an Independent Publisher Book Awards gold medal for fiction. She received an Excellence in Teaching Award at the University of Toronto SCS and was also winner of IFOA’s Poetry NOW. Her work is anthologized internationally and she has appeared on CBC Radio One’s The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers. Visit her at www.catherinegraham.com. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @catgrahampoet.