Poetry Muse: Lori Cayer + Searching for Signal

Today’s Poetry Muse featured poet is Lori Cayer, discussing her latest collection, Searching for Signal (Signature Editions). She shares a gripping poem from the collection inspired by her late father, and tells us why poetry wasn’t so much a choice of form as it “never occurred to me to write anything other than poetry.”


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An interview with Lori Cayer

1. Who or what is your muse? For Searching for Signal my muse was very specifically my father. For my previous collection, Mrs Romanov, my muse was Alexandra Federovna. In both these cases I was writing, at least in part, about someone who was not myself, so it made sense for there to be an outside muse. Normally I write poems that become collections, so a single muse to oversee such a book doesn’t really apply, though individual poems may have their own muses. My father has been my muse for a handful of poems in my previous collections which I could not use in Searching for Signal, but certainly the topic of him always out in the bush has come forward. So my muse is not just my dad but my dad in the forest.2. What inspired you when you started writing your poetry collection? And what is your creative process when you begin writing? My father became my muse for Searching for Signal because the year he spent dying we spent more time together than we had since I was a child. A lot was happening on a daily basis with his health but also with his mind and memories, his thoughts on time and memoir. I was learning about his life and history, interjecting my own life experience and I needed to record it. To record the facts, the interpretations, the outcomes of genetic trauma and also, because I’m that kind of writer, the daily visceral reality of living and dying. He was at the centre of it all as the voice guiding me. Even at the stage of taking notes, the notes were in poem fragments for this book; the curtailed voice I wrote from was the one I must have been thinking in, in the midst of all the work of accompanying someone through their last year.
3. When did you start writing poetry and why did you choose to write poetry over other forms of literature? From a young age poetry struck me as a different language from prose; one that made sense but was infinitely malleable. It simply never occurred to me to write anything other than poetry.4. How would you describe your poetry collection? Definitely a juxtaposition of two stories; the here-and-now of one man’s passing away, the passing of one year’s seasons and the longer story of that man’s life going back to the emigration of the generations before him coming to Canada from France and Ukraine. Both stories are told chronologically, but they are interleaved so the reader is pendulum-swung from the here-and-now, into various places thread of our family history.5. What advice would you give to aspiring poets? Force yourself to learn to be comfortable with writing and rewriting poems until they are something better and possibly even new.

A poem from Searching for Signal

your body remembers the marblesyou used as a calendareach a contemplationan appreciation for the day you’d been giventhen tossedthe jar emptying over yearsyou bought twenty years too many we take them in our pockets where we goleave deposits of youin the celluloid narrativein the Bay of Pigs I launched a blue-eyed onein the glareit fell into the sky twice 
the sky       should have             but didn’t fall in after you

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Lori Cayer is the author of four previous books of poetry, Mrs Romanov, which was shortlisted for the Lansdowne Prize for Poetry/ Prix Lansdowne de poésie, Dopamine Blunder, Attenuations of Force, also shortlisted for the Lansdowne Prize for Poetry/Prix Lansdowne de poésie, and Stealing Mercury, which was shortlisted for the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award and won the Eileen McTavish Sykes Award for Best First Book in Manitoba. Lori is also a past winner of the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer. She is co-founder of the Lansdowne Prize for Poetry/Prix Lansdowne de poésie, Lori has lived her whole life on the now verdant bed of a glacial lake.

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During the month of April, you can buy Searching for Signal and our other featured Poetry Muse books for 15% off + free shipping in Canada with the promo code ALUPOETRYMUSE. Or find them at your local independent bookstore!Keep up with us all month on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook with the hashtag #ALUPoetryMuse. And catch up on the rest of the Poetry Muse series here.