Sue Goyette lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia and has published three books of poems, The True Names of Birds, Undone and outskirts (Brick Books). Her novel, Lures (HarperCollins), was published in 2002. She’s been nominated for several awards including the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, the Pat Lowther, the Gerald Lampert, the Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award and won the 2008 CBC Literary Prize for Poetry and the 2010 Earle Birney Prize. Her poetry has appeared on the Toronto subway system, in wedding vows and spray-painted on a sidewalk somewhere in St. John, New Brunswick. Sue currently teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Dalhousie University and will be teaching at the 2011/12 Banff Wired Writing Studio.
You have been nominated for and won many awards in the past decade. What are some of the highlights?
I guess being nominated for anything is a highlight and a surprise. I never really believe it when I hear that I’ve been nominated so there are always a few days of: maybe I dreamt it… winning the CBC award was great because I got to go home to Montreal and see my mom and stay in a pretty lovely hotel and visit with a few friends and just luxuriate in the city for a couple of days which was totally unexpected. I liked meeting and hanging out with the great Jim Johnstone author of ‘Patternicity’ as well.
You’ve taught Creative Writing at the Banff Centre and you currently teach at Dalhousie. Have you ever been a student in similar courses? How important is the workshop to a writer’s development?
I’ve taken various creative writing workshops and I’ve learned something valuable from each of them. What’s been lasting is the sense of my community they created. I went to Banff a couple of times as a participant and can still feel the constellation of writers across Canada who were there as well. I think there’s a time in a writer’s practice when workshops can be extremely helpful. The opportunity to be public with your work, the push and pull of a good argument, the broadening of your reading horizon all contribute to solidifying your intent, your direction. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing teachers and can still hear their voices when I’m editing. I went to Banff when my kids were young and being a writer for five-weeks was intoxicating. For the first time my writing wasn’t watered down with having to think of anything else. This, for me, made going home almost painful. It took a couple of weeks to re-enter my routine. What served me was having that uninterrupted writing practice in place that, while I couldn’t duplicate at home, I could still head towards.
What have you learned from your students?
I learn a great deal from my students. Humility. Generosity. Risk. I’m fortunate because I get to be in the company of poets just tasting the duende for the first time so, often, they wade into their silence, their blank page with great energy, great curiosity and are willing to try their hand at anything in a poem. Most of them aren’t really thinking about publishing but are keen on exploring. They’re reading widely, they’re drinking and talking loudly, playing pool way too late the night before anything and then, in class, they’re trying to make sense of it all. Their lack of pretention, their willingness to go off the path and wade into the lake, their honesty and their camaraderie and kindness to each other are all traits that continue to inspire me. You are a novelist and a poet. How does your writing process differ depending on genre? I like what a poem can do, how it can contain an ecosystem replete with its own weather, images and language. I like how everything collaborates in a poem to that ecosystem and how the poem’s intent is like a river running beneath it and that river is silence and is just as important as the poem. I’ve got so much to learn about writing poems and just typing that out makes me enormously happy because it’s such good and proper work. I found writing fiction kept me from the world in order to keep the world I was creating contained. Maybe, one day, a story with a mind of its own may persuade me to write it down. I can see how that can happen. But right now poetry delivers me back to my street, to the trees around my house, to the ocean at the foot of my city. And at this point, I prefer the relationship I have with my days when I’m writing poems. Tell us a little about your new book outskirts.
I was thinking of the outskirts of all kinds of things when I was writing the poems in my new book. My kids were leaving home so I was at the outskirts of my idea of family which invited investigation into other social/cultural edges. I’ve always been interested in that space where the domesticated meets the wild and how we navigate back and forth between what we can control and what we can’t. Our relationship with wilderness fascinates me and it’s that fascination that I dove into to write these poems. The book is in two parts. The first part is populated with fathers and daughters, with mothers, with kids. The second half of the book pushes farther afield into forests and the ocean, into the metaphorical landscape of the edge of things.
If it wasn’t writing, what would it be?
You know, I have no idea. Maybe entomology. Something outside. I think it would be pretty fascinating to be a biologist right now studying coyotes. How we’ve trespassed and how they’re coping. It would be great to study both the myth and the biology of an animal.