Saturday, June 18, 2011

"Fresh, Sharp, Witty, Unpretentious*" - Canadian Poet Marianne Jones

I just discovered that Marianne Jones' book of poems Here, On the Ground won The World Guild 2011 Writing Award in the Special Books category. Congratulations, Marianne!

In February 2011 I did an email interview of Marianne for FellowScript. Today seems like a good time to republish that here to give readers some insight into Marianne and her prize-winning book.

"Fresh, Sharp, Witty, Unpretentious" - Canadian Poet Marianne Jones

Marianne Jones of Thunder Bay, Ontario was named Utmost Christian Writers International Christian Poet Laureate in March of 2010. The position of Poet Laureate is not the first recognition this Canadian poet has received for her poetry-writing skill. I interviewed her recently via email.

Violet: When did you first become interested in writing poetry? 
Marianne: I remember working seriously on poems when I was ten or eleven. But when I was younger I remember looking at things—rooftops, trees—and feeling an urgency to find the right words to describe them so that others would feel and see what I was experiencing.

Violet: What were some of the milestones along the path to becoming Utmost's International Christian Poet Laureate?
Marianne: The first time one of my poems was accepted by a literary magazine was a definite milestone for me. And when I won first place in the Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop competition it was a real acknowledgement from my peers. Stephen Heighton’s praise of my work was an honour. Also, my chapbook, Highway 17, was used as part of the creative writing curriculum at Confederation College in Thunder Bay for several years. That was pretty special, as was receiving a grant from the Ontario Arts Council toward my collection, Here, on the Ground.

Violet: Some people claim they can't write poetry unless they are "inspired." Others write regularly whether they feel specific inspiration or not. How does the process of conceiving and writing poems work for you?
Marianne: Both are part of the process. There are days when my brain feels like sludge and produces nothing interesting. However, I have learned to carry a journal with me at all times and jot down descriptions and images. My poem “Canadian Tire” was written in the car as I sat in the parking lot outside the Canadian Tire store while my husband was shopping. I was bored, but decided to write about the experience. You never know from what unlikely place a poem will come!

Violet: Once you've written something, do you leave it the way it comes out, or edit it? If you edit, could you tell us about your process?
Marianne: My poems go through numerous edits. The first draft captures something—the essence of what I’m trying to say, or an image I like. But I need to sleep on it and revisit it later. Usually the first draft is a mess, which I don’t recognize at first blush. The editing process is the fun part for me, where I experiment with cleaning up sloppy phrases or deleting things that don’t add anything to the poem. The final draft often bears only a slight resemblance to the final product. This process is where I look for more muscular verbs and sharper images, a more graceful flow.

Violet: Your latest book Here, On the Ground (FriesenPress, May, 2010), has poems on a range of topics from Bible characters to life in northern Ontario. What was your concept for the book and what ties these poems together?
Marianne: These poems articulate a lot of my life experiences and thought processes. Tying them together into one theme was challenging, so I grouped them into sections. The Shadowlands section is about Biblical stories that resonate with me, and some of my own experiences in my journey. The red shoes section is about folk tales that speak to me, as well as a few playful poems added. How Canadians Survive Winter speaks to our love-hate relationship with the geography and climate of this country. I’d say that this is a very personal collection, that shows the range of my musings, from the mundane to the sublime.

Violet: This is your second published collection. Tell us about your first book and the process of publishing poetry collections in general.
Marianne: Highway 17 was an experiment and an act of faith. My daughter had been studying creative writing at Concordia University in Montreal. She told me that self-publishing chapbooks was the norm for poets in Canada, where very few publishing houses handled poetry. A friend helped me to sort and organize my poems, and I self-published a small number of chapbooks. I really didn’t expect much response, so I was pleasantly surprised when the first printing sold out. The second printing is almost sold out now. I did all the work on Here, on the Ground myself, except for the cover photo, which my husband did.

Violet: What activities have you found useful in publicizing and marketing your books?
Marianne: Marketing is the part that every writer hates, but it’s a necessary evil nowadays. I use Facebook, sell at local book tables, do readings and workshops. There is no easy or magic way. You have to realize that there are a million other writers out there also marketing their work.

You have to keep thinking of ways to promote, and enlisting the help of others. I’m not the best marketer in the world, but I plug away at it.

Violet: What advice would you give poets interested in publishing collections of their poems?
Marianne: I didn’t attempt it until I had already published a reasonable amount in a variety of magazines. That was what gave me the confidence that there were people out there willing to pay for my work. It’s great to have supportive family and friends who praise your work, but they may be responding more to you than to the work. The real test is whether editors will pay to publish your poems. After I had done that, and won some poetry competitions, I decided that self-publishing a chapbook was a logical next step.

Violet: What other poetry-inspired activities or organizations are you involved with? How are they helpful?
Marianne: I am a member of a local professional writers group. I am the only poet in the group, but we enjoy each other and support and celebrate each other’s work. I am also a member of the League of Canadian Poets. I do readings whenever I get the opportunity.

Violet: What advice would you give someone who has newly discovered they enjoy writing poetry?
Marianne: Read a lot of good poetry. That will teach you more about how to write than anything. I cut my teeth as a child on Walter de la Mare and Rudyard Kipling, and continued on to Stephen Crane, Wilfred Owen, Robert Frost. Soak yourself in the poetry portions of the Bible—Isaiah, the Psalms, The Song of Songs.
And take your time! Poetry is an activity that requires slowing down, meditating, observing quietly—things that are counter-cultural in the West. What we write in a hurry is likely to be superficial. Stretch yourself to find the unusual metaphor, the original phrase.

Violet: Can we find more of your work online? Where can we purchase your books?
Marianne: People can order Here, on the Ground from Chapters, FriesenPress or Or they can email me directly:

  • My review of Marianne's book is here.

*Words from the cover blurb of Here, On the Ground, by poet, editor & publisher of Penumbra Press, John Flood.


Maureen said...

Violet, thank you; this is an informative, enjoyable interview with a poet with whom I was not familiar.

violet said...

Thanks, Maureen! And yes, there are some wonderful Canadian poets...will try to keep you posted from my end *smiles*