Poetry Express: This Is How It Is + Sharon King-Campbell

In her debut collection This Is How It Is (Breakwater Books), Newfoundland-based poet Sharon King-Campbell subverts history to explore our environmental crisis, the previously silent voices of our collective pasts, and the interconnectedness of all things. Nature and its power are ever present, connected to fertility, interpersonal relationships, and experiences within and beyond the human. Read on for our Q&A with Sharon where she tells us how a creative writing course led her to publishing This Is How It Is, what math and science have to do with her writing, and fantasy chocolate. 


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During the month of April, you can buy any of our featured Poetry Express books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada. Just use promo code NPMexpress at checkout. Or you can find it at your  local independent bookstore.All Lit Up: Can you tell us a bit about your collection and how it came to be?Sharon King-Campbell: I’ve been writing poetry since I was a little kid, and since high school I’ve been carrying around a notebook where I can jot down ideas or turns of phrases when they occur to me, but I didn’t have any plans to publish until I started grad school. I took a creative writing class in poetry with James Langer, and after that semester he encouraged me to put together a manuscript and submit it to Breakwater. That’s where this started.I had heaps of notebooks and half-worked pieces at home from a couple of decades of hobby-writing, so I started to go through those and pulled out snatches, sometimes full poems and sometimes just a few words together. I revived my daily writing practice. I was writing for a few minutes daily in high school, and I’d gone through periods where I managed to maintain the practice in my adult life for a few months at once, but this was a real, concerted effort to produce some words every day. Sometimes I’d take a stab at a form poem, or work from a prompt, or just start with a word and see where my brain went, and other times I’d feel I had something to say and I’d write that down. This went on for about a year and a half, and every couple of months I’d flip through my notebook and transcribe the stuff I was willing to let other people see. So the works in the book span many years—the newest piece was written in 2020, I think the oldest full poem is from 2012, and there are some turns of phrases that reach back into the early 2000s. In the end, the editing process started to reveal some pretty big unifying themes, but before then I wasn’t deliberately working toward anything in particular beyond a certain quantity of poems that I thought were good enough to let other people read. 

Photo of Sharon King-Campbell

[Image Description: A front-facing photo of the author smiling into the camera. The photo is cut off at her chest. She is light-skinned with blue eyes and shoulder-length light-brown hair parted to the side, and is wearing a black v-neck t-shirt. 

ALU: What has been your most unlikely source of writing inspiration?SKC: There is one piece that I wrote right after listening to an episode of Quirks & Quarks. I was on the North Head Trail here in St. John’s, staring at the empty horizon over the Atlantic Ocean and listening to this mathematician explain, in detail, how pi is calculated. I love math and science, and I come from a math-and-science-y family, so it always seemed natural to integrate that kind of thing into more artistic works. The common factor is curiosity. ALU: Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poems?SKC: Oh my goodness, yes. Mostly, I think it’s expanded. My understanding of poetry used to be very specifically regimented. There were tons of rules. Now I feel quite strongly that poetry can be about anything and take any form. ALU: What are you most in the mood to read these days? Any poets you’re especially enjoying?SKC: I’m back in grad school now, so I’m mostly reading for coursework, but when I get a chance to read for fun I grab onto it hard. I’m a big, big fan of Michelle Porter’s books—Inquiries and Approaching Fire. They are the new books I have read most recently. But currently, because of the global circumstances, I’ve been circling back to familiar favourites that can act a little like comfort food, and the poets among those are Stephanie Bolster, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael Ondaatje, and Ann Shin. ALU: Describe your ideal escape.SKC: Gosh, OK, here’s the fantasy: I’m in a cabin on the side of a mountain in the winter. There’s a wood stove, and the wood is already cut and ready. There are real, wooden matches to light it with. I have skis and snowshoes, and there are trails nearby—through the woods and also along some good clearings where you can take in the view. My partner is with me, and we have tons of delicious food that we can cook together. The kettle in the cabin is a metal object you put on the stove to heat up. There is a tiny bit of cell signal so I can reach out to people if I want or need to, but only in one corner of the house, so most of the time my phone is off. I have many books and some movies, a really comfortable armchair by the window, and lots of teas to choose from. There is chocolate in hot, dark, and cake format.

A poem from This Is How It Is

I am raw as a split fish, insides
outside, and the salt – preserves – but
I’m alive, don’t you see? I
can breathe the air. The centre of a
traitor’s punishment, guts
everywhere. And here
the crows are coming

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Sharon King-Campbell is a freelance theatre artist and storyteller. Her work has appeared in Riddle Fence and Word, and on stages across Newfoundland and Labrador. Sharon grew up in Ottawa and now divides her time between downtown St. John’s and a little yellow house in Winterton, NL.

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During the month of April, you can buy This Is How It Is 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! Keep up with us all month on  Twitter,  Instagram, and Facebook with the hashtag #ALUPoetryExpress.  
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