Poetry Muse: Kelsey Andrews + Big Sky Falling
Today's Poetry Muse featured poet is Kelsey Andrews, author of Big Sky Falling (Ronsdale Press). She discusses why "chanty" (note - not "chantey") music inspires her to write, some of her favourite collections, and how setting expectations for your muse can make them - in her case, a woman with dark hair - come to you.See more details below
Who is your muse?
I don’t have a clear image of my muse, though I picture her as a woman with dark hair. I think of it this way: I’m like a teenager with a red car and a crush on a girl who’s way out of my league (aka my muse). I show up in my red car every day (that’s when I sit down to write) and ask the muse if she wants to go for a ride. Many times she says no, but because I show up every day she starts to expect me, and then sometimes she says yes, and we go somewhere together. Showing up regularly is necessary, or she’ll forget about me and go places in some other guy’s car. I do not know why in this scenario the car is red; it just is.
What inspired you when you started writing your poetry collection? And what is your creative process when you begin writing?
The poems in this book were written over about 20 years. The earliest poems were written because they had to be. I had to express my sadness, my depression, my homesickness. Then after those sad poems were written, I had to rebut with poems about small joys. Nowadays I try to write every day(ish). I write in a cheap lined notebook with an expensive fountain pen. The cheap notebook because I find myself trying to live up to a fancy notebook and failing. A cheap one is needed to hold all of myself, not just the pretty parts. The fountain pen because I love the feel of the nib gliding along the page. I drink rose congou tea while I write. Rose congou because it doesn’t taste bad no matter how long the tea bag has sat in it. It even tastes good cold. I really like writing to prompts to get myself started. I attend as many workshops as I can manage.
When did you start writing poetry and why did you choose to write poetry over other forms of literature?
I started writing poetry seriously in high school, grade 10 I believe. I’d written poems before then, but I considered myself an equal-opportunity writer. One lunchtime, hiding in the library from the social awkwardness that was high school, I found Leonard Cohen’s Book of Mercy. I have a vivid memory of sitting cross-legged on the carpet in the poetry section, thinking, “If Leonard Cohen can make sadness and self-hatred into something beautiful, I want to do that too”. I’ve considered myself a poet who occasionally writes other things since then.
How would you describe your poetry collection?
Three words: wild, honest, rooted
This is definitely the hardest question to answer. It’s a book about the land (Grande Prairie and Vancouver and Vancouver Island) and the sky, about winged things and small animals. About depression and finding hope in that place. Childhood memories peek their little faces in. Love and leaving and getting dumped are also mentioned. In the end, I hope it’s about the small things that make life so very worth living, while acknowledging the things that make it so very hard.
What advice would you give to aspiring poets?
One thing that I didn’t do enough of when I was starting out was read poetry. Lorna Crozier said once that she didn’t think writers needed to write every day, but she did think they needed to read every day. I try to read at least a couple poems a day, lots of kinds of poems, including ones I don’t necessarily like right away. Writing regularly (not necessarily every day, but regularly, not waiting to be inspired because inspiration so often comes with sitting down and putting pen to paper) is important too. Also when you’re revising, read your poems aloud. One last thing: find other writers. It took me a long time to discover how important being in a community was, but once I did my writing grew more generative and my life more fulfilling.
Are there any poets or poetry collections that you admire?
There are so many poets I admire that I can’t give you a greatest hits from my life, but some books that I’ve read lately and loved include Patrick Lane’s Collected Poems, Patrick Friesen’s A Short History of Crazy Bone, and the anthology Sweet Water: Poems for the Watersheds edited by Yvonne Blomer. I’ve just started Letters in a Bruised Cosmos by Liz Howard which is wonderful. I also recommend everything by Lorna Crozier, Leonard Cohen and Jack Gilbert.
Does music inspire you when you start writing poetry?
When I’m writing I have to listen to music without words in English, or I start writing out the lyrics in the middle of my draft (very annoying). I like instrumental music (Yo Yo Ma is a favourite—anything from Bach: The Unaccompanied Cello Suites is my go-to). For some reason old “chanty” music in Latin really works for me too (Gregorian chants of all kinds, and anything from the CD Hildegard von Bingen: Canticles of Ecstasy are favourites).
Poem from Big Sky Falling
She has forgotten the sound
of the blackbird's cry.
She still has the look of him
when he sits at the crown of a naked aspen
like oil paint
the red so red that it's a name
on a tiny tube next to scarlet and carnelian
in the artist supply shop,
with a tiny bit of blue
perhaps from shadowed snow
in the underlayer to make it shine.
She still owns the feel of half-frozen mud
hard and brittle and sticky and slick
under the balls of her feet,
the smell of a lake soon to be frozen to the bottom --
But she has lost the sound of the blackbird's
There are degrees of loneliness.
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Kelsey Andrews is best known for her poetry, though she writes short fiction too. Recently published in Prism, The Dalhousie Review, The New Quarterly, and Prairie Fire, she writes first drafts in cheap notebooks so she doesn’t feel like she’s ruining a fancy one. She’s written about birdwatching when you can’t see the birds, suicide, snails, and two separate poems about turning into rock. Kelsey grew up in the country near Grande Prairie in Northern Alberta, then moved to the West Coast, and these two landscapes anchor much of her work while she travels her past and various possible presents. She loves, in no particular order, the moon, crows, getting a line exactly right after many drafts, and chocolate. Her first book, Big Sky Falling, came out with Ronsdale Press in November 2021.
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During the month of April, you can buy Big Sky Falling and our other featured Poetry Muse books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada with promo code ALUPOETRYMUSE. Or find them at your local independent bookstore!
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