As a child, I listened to my father recite Shakespeare and Edward Leer, Victorian morality poems I learned by heart. I wrote a limerick about a Martian with six toes when I was about five or so. Poetry for me was about sound, rhythm and play.
I distanced myself from poetry after a Grade Seven incident when we were studying Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud and the teacher asked us what it meant and I answered, “the sound of bells,” and she said I was wrong.
In French Literature at university I studied Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and their poems made me want to fuck the poets in question or anyone really. The feeling of being drunk on words was exciting to me, but in my twenties, I wasn’t really into poetry. I was trying to build a life, I wanted a career, I was studying French language and literature in order to become bilingual enough to be a translator.
In my thirties I was unhappy in my career and my relationship, trying to figure out how to change my life or if I even should do so. I searched online for poetry that offered … I don’t know what exactly … solace or a kindred feeling. I happened upon poetry by Gwendolyn MacEwen, Sylvia Plath, Lorna Crozier and Mary Oliver. I wonder what search criteria I entered to come up with that mix of poets! I was enthralled by the dark imagery of Plath and MacEwen; I was delighted with the humour and bold-faced eroticism of Crozier’s Carrots, and I was comforted by Oliver’s Wild Geese: “you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves…”
I recognized myself in those poems, not my lifestyle or biography, but more a kindred intensity, sadness, similar obsessions: colour, sex, and fears of failure, insecurity, not fitting in. More than I ever did in a Shakespearean sonnet. I realized after reading poetry by these women that I had been writing poems ever since I could hold a fat red Grade One pencil in my finger, all stained with led and saliva from my sticking the writing end on my tongue. I always wrote but it never even occurred to me that what I wrote could be considered poetry.
At the ripe old age of thirty-six, I managed to get into a poetry workshop at the local university where I had the opportunity to meet poets, mostly younger than me, who were also trying to learn how to write. It was scary as fuck but also invigorating. I started to explore on my own. To read other poets who I could either relate to or who made me strive to write differently, to play more, and to defy chauvinistic pogroms against what is referred to with derision as domestic poetry, poems about my sexuality, obscure women in history, urban life, walking, craft, tea, menopause.
Once I divested myself of my image of a poet with a capital P, as an old dead white man from the early 20th century or earlier who had intoned poems in an English accent whilst stroking his sizeable beard, my whole world opened up.
I began to read living poets like Robert Kroetsch, Dennis Cooley, Anne Carson, Dionne Brand, Oana Avasilichioaei, Nathanaël, Nicole Brossard, Lisa Robertson, and more recently Canisia Lubrin, Elee Kraljiii Gardiner, Julie McIsaac, Joshua Whitehead, Amber Dawn, Tess Liem, Chuqiao Yang and Klara Du Plessis. Local poets and friends such as Christine McNair, Sandra Ridley, Ben Ladouceur, Marcus McCann (who moved to Toronto, gosh darn it), and Natalie Hanna. Emerging locals such as Manahil Bandukwala, Jennifer Pederson, Conyer Clayton, Nina Jane Drystek, and Marilyn Irwin.
Poetry has been responsible for my being accepted and nurtured by supportive and wonderful creative communities, whether it be the local literary scene of 2003-2009 when I was at my most active in that community, or a larger association of feminist Canadian poets, or an international group of visual poets.
Over the years, I have been called upon to help others with their poetry. Through my role as managing editor of Bywords.ca and fallen angel of AngelHousePress, I have become an editor and mentor, particularly for AngelHousePress where I began a close reading service, wishing to help other women and gender nonconforming poets gain confidence, and give them support so that they can be published and other women like myself can read their words and know that they are not alone.
Amanda Earl is a Canadian poet, publisher, editor, prose writer and visual poet who lives in Ottawa, Ontario. Her poetry book, Kiki, came out in 2014 with Chaudiere Books. More information is available at AmandaEarl.com