Poetry Grrrowl: An Unorthodox Guide to Wildlife + Katie Vautour

April 24, 2019

In this unconventional collection, An Unorthodox Guide to Wildlife (Breakwater Books), Katie Vautour explores the axis where human and animal life converge, revealing the state of our man-made world – ultimately, a reflection of ourselves. Check out our interview with Katie below where we chat more about the collection and how her work as a visual artist has inspired her writing.

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An Interview with the Poet

 

All Lit Up: Tell us about your collection.

Katie Vautour:  An Unorthodox Guide to Wildlife considers how animals and the natural world interact with and affect, or are affected by, an unnatural, man-made landscape. The poems also consider how creatures can embody and reflect human experiences.

 

ALU: What is your process for beginning a poem? Has it changed since you began writing?

KV: My poems usually stem from some kind of observation, but that can be considered broadly. It could be anything from a news report, a story, a picture in a book, something I've seen in person such as a animal or plant or object, or it could stem from an idea in a casual conversation.

 

ALU: What sparked your initial love of poetry?

KV: There are two things that made me curious about poetry. I've always loved reading, and poetry is so succinct. It's able to capture complex images and ideas, both verbally and visually, not just in terms of description, but arrangement on the page. The second is that when I was in high school, I was invited to attend an arts summit in Saint John (where I grew up). There were people discussing all kinds of disciplines, and I remember being amazed by the poetry panel because I had no idea what half of the words meant. What is assonance? What is sibilance? How is someone in grade ten expected to know what a dipthong or caesura is? So then, of course, I had to look them up, and it pretty much went from there.

 

ALU: Who are some of your fave women of poetry?

KV: There are two main poets whose work I admire, the first is Mary Dalton (and I'm not trying to suck up to her, as she's been an inspiring professor and friend for a few years, now) because her work manages to capture the ambience of life in Newfoundland in profound, and often surprising, ways.

The second, no less important, is Anne Compton from Prince Edward Island. She was the first poet I'd ever heard read, back in high school in New Brunswick. Her voice seemed to resonate the assertiveness of her poems. Processional was the first book of poetry I bought, and the images were so stunning—one poem describes june bugs as “scuffed pumps.” Until then, I didn't realize how visual words could be based on their look, sound, or arrangement on the page.

 

ALU: What do you find most informs and inspires your writing?

KV: As I mentioned before, observation is key to inspiring my writing. I suppose that comes from by original background as a visual artist. Another major factor is experience; that could come from personal experience of a place, or concept, or situation, and trying to discover how those experiences can be translated into words that are (hopefully) good enough for others to understand it themselves.

 

ALU: If you had one superpower, what would it be?

KV: I think I would like to be able to become tiny, and not just because I like Ant-Man and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. I think it would be similar to rediscovering a new world. For example, just looking around at my living room, that white woolly coat might be a fluffy tundra, or a cloud, and that stack of Cd's could be a Modernist high-rise building. I didn't consider this until now, but the majority of my visual art are large-scale paintings and drawings of small objects. I once did a twelve-foot tall drawing of a beer bottle, and a six-foot drawing of a snail and a piece of popcorn. So, long story short, I want to be tiny because I like wondering, “What could that be?” instead of “This is what that is.”

 

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A Poem from An Unorthodox Guide to Wildlife

 

THE LYREBIRD

composes himself
on a mound of dirt.

He fans out his instrumental
tail,
soliciting attention
from potential mates

by reciting an arrangement.

Impersonating    perfectly
ordinary sounds—

chainsaws, car alarms,
the snick-snick of a whipper-snipper
           trimming underbrush,
a truck backing up—beep
                                  beep
                                       beep
           a busy signal.

Trying to connect
with the chatter-crowded air,
he receives silence
from his species.

The lyrebird is out of tune.

He hangs on,
waiting for answers.

No one returns his calls.

 

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Katie Vautour _ author headshot

Katie Vautour is a visual artist and writer published in a variety of literary journals, and though she dabbles in all genres (including fiction, non-fiction, and playwriting), her main focus is poetry. She is also the director of the Piper’s Frith Writing Retreat. Katie graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University with majors in Filmmaking, Painting, Drawing and Art History. She has participated in residencies in Oaxaca, Mexico, New Brunswick, and the Banff Centre. She exhibits her mixed-media work, paintings, and drawings throughout Atlantic Canada, and gladly repurposes offered used materials into art. She lives in St. John’s.

 

 

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