Sue Goyette’s latest collection focuses on the physical presence of water and all its metaphorical connotations. It has its own wavelike structure that connects to humanity, spirituality, mythology, comfort, and more. Reading this collection reminded me of my own connection to the water that I didn’t understand ’til I moved from it. I missed the water, the ocean air, the immensity, the way it puts you in your place. I think anyone who lives on the edges of the land would find understanding in Goyette’s Ocean, and easily undulate on the pages with her.
It wasn’t until I moved to Western Labrador from Eastern NL did I realize how connected I was to the ocean, to water, and how much I missed it. When did you realize that your connection to the water could inspire a book?
I think the ocean has always been at the edge of my thinking, lurking the way it does. It’s a master class on humility and wildness for me, the long look and beauty, and has become essential. I was living in Montreal in my early twenties and was experiencing this longing, this wistfulness that I didn’t understand until I moved to Nova Scotia a couple of years later. There’s something about standing at the shore and looking out at a horizon of ocean that I find both tremendously grounding and expansive. When I first got here, I felt myself breathe in a way I hadn’t been breathing before, I also felt something in me relax, adjust to a level of comfort that is kin to a homecoming. I felt that I had somehow arrived.
There is a wavelike movement to the collection. Was this intentional?
Writing this book was unlike any writing I had done before. The poems asserted their own rhythm that I tried to stay out of the way of. When I did interfere, the poems I wrote seemed like seaweed out of the water lacking a buoyancy, a fluency somehow. Quickly, I realized my job was to give over to the poems and not pollute them with my idea of how they should sound. A natural rhythm asserted itself when I surfed its current.
How was the writing of this collection different from the other collections?
There was a continuity, a current to these poems that gave them a sense of direction I hadn’t experienced before. They also terrified and baffled me and insisted on a kind of lateral reasoning that took some getting used to. These poems seemed raucous and I was constantly surprised by them. I still am. They seem so different than the way I usually write and are kind of feral to me still.
In a recent Quill and Quire interview, you talk about Halifax and its affect on your writing. Do you think a Prairie writer or a Northern Canadian writer could write the same way about water?
I can come up with two answers for this question. The first answer involves our relationship with place/home and how integral it is, the way our place informs our art like a groundswell, a climate, an ecosystem of community and vegetation and cloud formation and everything else that crowds our days. And how our response to our place is such an important and timely and vital contribution we can make as artists.
The second answer involves the transformation art makes of its things and what we are writing about is, ultimately, metaphorical for something we aren’t able to articulate. So, yes, a Prairie or Northern Canadian writer can definitely write about water. And they can write about Halifax. Halifax as their home? Maybe fictionally.
How would you describe your writing habits?
I wear the same clothes. I try and keep the space between waking and sitting down to write as narrow as possible. I drink tea and eat breakfast at my desk. I try to ride out the awful discomfort that is the moat between not writing and writing. I try and stay offline. I throw out a word and see what the silence around it does to it. I throw out another one. The best part is when I’m not thinking about writing, not planning or reckoning but simply caught up in the great vitality of actually doing it. Then I stop when I’m done and read something.
What are you working on now?
I’m trying to write some poems.
What are the last few books you’ve read or are currently reading?
Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium; Anne Carson’s The Autobiography of Red; Sara Peters’ 1996; Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others; Javier Marias’ Written Lives; Eliot Weinberger’s An Elemental Thing; Colin Meloy’s Wildwood; Gabor Maté’s Scattered, Phil Hall’s The Small Nouns Crying Faith and Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.
Learn more about Sue Goyette here.