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Poetry Express: Susan Alexander + Nothing You Can Carry
With a balanced mix of humour and emotion, Susan Alexander’s Nothing You Can Carry (Thistledown Press) expresses the holiness of place, obscured by the dark cloud that is the future, looming over every aspect of the human life as a result of the climate crisis we are facing.Susan Alexander joins us for another Poetry Express Q&A, sharing more about building this collection piece by piece, finding unlikely inspiration within feelings of guilt and grief at the threat of planetary catastrophe, and finding a connection to writers like William Blake and Olga Tokarczuk. Plus, read the poem “CLAMAVI” from the collection, below.
Photo of Susan Alexander
[Image Description: An image of the author sitting, cropped at the upper leg. She sits in a taupe, velvet chair and turns to face the camera with one elbow propped on the back of the chair. She is wearing a button up, light-blue jean shirt with darker blue jeans. She wears a watch with a black band on her left wrist. She has light skin, blonde-brown shoulder length hair with a slight wave and wears black, rectangular framed glasses. She smiles with lips parted. In the background is a blurred second chair and a white wall in the distance.]ALU: What has been your most unlikely source of writing inspiration?SA: My most unlikely source of inspiration for this collection is the guilt and grief I feel around the climate crisis; an unlikely source because these feelings can trigger paralysis. I had to find ways of moving through stasis into writing. It was and is a puzzle how to write about human-caused planetary catastrophe, to own my complicity in the crisis, and not fall into either a self-righteous, argumentative tone or a falsely optimistic one. Yet I can’t and don’t live 24/7 in that space of considering calamity. Many of the poems in the book are personal and quotidian, about life, relationships and the hunt for meaning, all under the shadow of the bigger threat.ALU: Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poems?I remember discovering William Blake in my late teens. I was obsessed with his circular poem “The Mental Traveller” which I recently re-read and it still astounds me. When I started out, I wanted to write poems of moral outrage and mystical experience. BIG poems. Later on, I wanted to write devotional poetry like George Herbert. But that is rarely what my pen captures on the page. I write out of my experience of family, love and life, about the deep solace and generosity of nature. Maybe those other poems are still to come. ALU: What are you most in the mood to read these days? Any poets you’re especially enjoying?SA: I am definitely in the mood for escape these days and reading prose does it for me. I absolutely adored Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk which has deeply serious themes about social justice, environment and meaning delivered in a wonderfully madcap comic voice, complete with a tribute to William Blake. I also enjoyed Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller which explores a short history of taxonomy and the shifting fashions of science. And talking about escape, I’ve just picked up Return of the Trickster, the last instalment of Eden Robinson’s trilogy.As for poetry, I am re-reading a couple of books: Lorna Crozier’s GG winning Inventing the Hawk and Chelene Knight’s Braided Skin. I have Ellen Bass’ Indigo, and I’m looking forward to Neil Surkan’s collection coming out this fall, Unbecoming. I heard him read some new work recently and was reminded me of another favourite writer, the late Patrick Lane. I am also ransacking the house for my favourite Don Domanski, Bite Down Little Whisper, looking forward to a quiet memorial read when I find it. ALU: Describe your ideal escape.SA: I’ve been dreaming of a renting cottage in a quiet French village with my husband Ross. But closer to home, my ideal escape would be borrowing our friends’ cabin on Cortes Island with my daughter Libby in the summertime. It would involve reading and writing, swimming and hiking, and begging her to play Scrabble with me.
A poem from Nothing You Can CarryCLAMAVI
*Susan Alexander is the author of two collections of poems, The Dance Floor Tilts, 2017, and Nothing You Can Carry, 2020, Thistledown Press. Her poems have won multiple awards, appeared in anthologies and literary magazines in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. and ridden Vancouver buses as part of Poetry in Transit and even shown up in the woods around Whistler. She lives with gratitude on Ne
* * *During the month of April, you can buyNothing You Can Carry and any one of our other featured Poetry Express books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada with promo code NPMexpress. Or find them at your local independent bookstore with our Shop Local option.Keep up with us all month on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with the hashtag #ALUPoetryExpress.