Interview on The Poetry Extension

Natalya Anderson, curator of the Poetry Extension, was kind enough to interview me recently:

I always had the idea that writing was a long apprenticeship, and I really didn’t start writing until about five years ago. I thought, ‘First I have to read all these books; then I have to open a bookstore.’ In my twenties I did open a bookstore. Then I worked as an editor, so it was, ‘Once I’m done editing, then I’ll write.’ And when I had the bookstore all these people were buying books, and I remember getting this sad feeling of, ‘They don’t even know that I wish I was a writer.’ That started to gnaw at me.

Enormous thanks to Natalya.

You can read the whole thing here.

New review of ‘Sharps,’ by Richard Greene

Really happy to be alerted to this new review of my book by the esteemed poet & professor Richard Greene, in the latest issue of University of Toronto Quarterly — reviews are always great but are especially sweet some time after the book has been out:

Stevie Howell is a poet of unusual intensity, and at her best she writes about terrible things in a manner that is wholly convincing. A Toronto poet, she has published widely and been nominated for several prizes. Her collection, ^^^^^^ ^^^^^^ ^^^^^^ [Sharps] (Icehouse Poetry), has been very well received, and rightly so. My slight hesitation about this book is the overabundance of references to popular culture: this is the done thing in the contemporary poetry scene, but very quickly these references become non-functional and somewhat self-congratulatory. Nonetheless, Howell is a poet of very real powers. In ‘‘A Gospel’’ she writes of a first-communion photograph, then of the persona’s loss of faith, her search for something believable among the Hare Krishna and other groups, letting

 

the Bahai indoctrinate me on Bloor one afternoon,
where they fed me channa in a muralized Olive Garden
basement. I left with a cassette
and a mental image of a savior cresting a hill
with a hankering for garlic bread.
My school and church were poverty and violence. A quadriplegic
classmate lived in a Winnebago. Her mother’s ex
cowered in a laundry hamper with a gun and shot her dead
one Sunday after Mass. That’s all I know.

 

Review: ‘Sharps’ in Matrix Magazine

I’m grateful to Roxanna Bennett & Matrix Magazine for a new review of Sharps. I’m so appreciative of her insight. + my book is just shy of its “terrible twos,” and it’s a pleasant surprise people are still finding it & finding some love for it!

QUOTE: “But grief / has an unknown half-life” Stevie Howell writes in “The Guard,” a poem placed before the title page of ^^^^^^ [Sharps], a blistering debut collection. This certainty is indicative of Howell’s work, an unblinkered engagement with the uncomfortable, a fearless interrogation of pain.[Sharps] scrutinizes death in all forms; of old age, illness, murder, and presents a pure grief untainted by sentimentality. Howell demonstrates a singular willingness to examine subject matter that is often ugly, and employs language with masterful skill and surgical detachment.

Read the whole thing here.

 

Interview: 5 Q’s w/International Festival of Authors

IFOA: Please tell us a bit about your debut book of poetry, ^^^^^^[Sharps]

Stevie Howell: Sharps is my first book of poetry and emerged indirectly out of working in a hospital and beginning to study psychology. Those experiences gave me the tools to look at my life and issues around gender, class, trauma, faith and death.

I think of the book as grounded in the living city, but influenced by myth. It draws some inspiration from The Last Unicorn, in which the unicorn protagonist had to hide in female form to get her work done. It also draws inspiration from ancient Egyptian mythology of the afterlifefor example, the concept of ma’at, in which, when you die, your heart is weighed against a feather. A heavy heart, it was said, would be fed to a lion-hippo-crocodile hybrid. I write to try and prevent that!

Read the rest here.

 

Interview: Prism International asks about Birding in Wolfville

 

New poem, “Birding in Wolfville” out in this issue of Prism. Kayla Czaga interviewed me on their site about the story behind it (among other things).

I heard you wrote a poem about bird watching with Don McKay, but I couldn’t find it in the book?

As part of the book tour I did about five dates with my friend Kerry-lee Powell, whose book was out in the fall too, it’s called Inheritance. Then a bunch of dates were with Don McKay because his new book is also on Goose Lane. He’s such an amazing reader. He’s so spontaneous. Even his old stuff he reads like it’s brand new. He gets right back into it. He’s one of those people you meet and think, no wonder you’re successful, you’re great at everything—talking to people one on one, the chit-chat between poems, of course the actual reading. He never goes through the motions. He’s always present. I think it was really a master class in terms of those aspects of poetry.

He’s had a lot of time…

Yeah. We went to Wolfville, NS. It’s these windy roads, it’s a valley, and it’s temperate—they grow produce there; they have vineyards. It felt a little bit like New England, the vibe of it—clapboard houses, seaside-things, leaves were blowing down sideways. It was cliché, a little bit like, “This is fucking beautiful, man. Did I die?”

He drove us—I don’t drive—and all I could think was, “I can’t believe I’m making G-d drive me here.” I didn’t really ever rise to the occasion of being around him. I just walked around crushed. We went birdwatching and I didn’t know what the hell to say, I was all: “I guess you’re over seagulls, huh?” So you know, after I wrote a poem…

Whole thing here.

 

Interview: Prism International — Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Saying “No” & Birding With Don McKay

You mentioned your own discipline (psychology), which I noticed a bit throughout [Sharps]. You speak from various psychologies (i.e.: ‘Crunches’), whose voices felt distinct from the general speaker of the book—for instance, when you re-appropriated a comment thread. There’s a lot of inhabiting of different minds, and you also actually talk about mental health facilities, the methadone clinic, and pedophilia. How do your disciplines fuel each other?

Well, I wanted this book to be “peopled.” I agreed with Philip Levine when he said, “our recent poetry seems totally without people.” For one thing, I’m a city kid; nature is alien, an anti-muse. But even more, I often feel that with my background, the odds were against me becoming a writer. And as I get older, and as I get more involved both with academia and the arts, I find I almost never meet people who (admit they?) grew up broke. Or (admit they?) had traumatic times. I feel like I crawled up through the sieve. And there’s a whole host of decent people I’ve known and loved who never read—who only worked—and I wanted as much as possible to give them voice, and to bring them with me.

And then some of the things you mentioned might fall into the category of writing about things that scare you.

Read the rest here.

 

Review: ‘Sharps’ in Canadian Literature

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Stevie Howell’s [Sharps] opens with “The Guard”—a poem that appears before the collection’s title page, and that serves simultaneously as a gesture of admittance and an administered pause:

King Tut, 5’6”, lies supine on mould-flecked cotton,
ceiling-transfixed. Body broken
as if struck by lightning. Dead at nineteen,
before purpose, before the remark.
My avatar.

Throughout the collection, Howell’s poems are edged with violence and whetted with measured and attentive lines. The speaker of one reflects on her First Communion, then on experiences with Hare Krishnas and Bahá’ís before concluding:

My school and church were poverty and violence. A quadriplegic
classmate lived in a Winnebago. Her mother’s ex
cowered in a laundry hamper with a gun and shot her dead
one Sunday after mass. That’s all I know.

Howell’s poems speak of people who “fumble towards intention,” who compare social rivals to the eerie children in The Shining, who see Rip Torn’s likeness in portraits of the Queen, and who debate the longevity of “the three-winged, / fluorescent snow angel of radiation”—a symbol that may mean zilch to whomever or whatever is alive to come across it in 100,000 years. Some poems are sharp and playful, eschewing the Roman alphabet to copy the wax rubbings of children in museums of natural history—“Dinosaurs have a Jungian resonance / with the <5 set,” after all. Others are worrisome and ominous. Some probe the “the one thing you can do / with a sawed-off rifle, a low IQ, and curiosity / about human biology;” others chronicle inventories of online vitriol and hate. Readers may find that Howell’s work calls Karen Solie’s to mind, or that of Ken Babstock (who provided a back-cover blurb). It is exquisitely visceral, and arrestingly intelligent.

Original review can be found here.