There’s a Poem for That: Genni Gunn + Accidents

Poet Genni Gunn discusses how she explores the various accidental events that shape lives in her collection Accidents (Signature Editions), and shares a poem for small victories.


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There's a poem for that... NPM on All Lit Up.

An interview with poet Genni Gunn

All Lit Up: Can you tell us a bit about Accidents and how it came to be?

Genni Gunn: In Accidents, my aim was to explore accidental events (both past and present) that cause upheavals in our lives and change our perception in some way. I divided the collection into three sections: the first, “Absences” deals with accidents of birth – things we can’t control or change; the second, “Artifacts” encompasses accidental objects that gain in significance as we age, and the third, “Accidents” includes arbitrary physical accidents and disasters, both inner and outer.  

ALU: What has been your most unlikely source of writing inspiration?

GG: I was teaching a creative writing class, and as a means of breaking the ice, so-to-speak, I asked students to bring an object meaningful to them, and tell us the story around it. The outcome was surprising and moving. Students shared intimate stories about small objects some had carried throughout their young lives. I wrote everything down and years later, composed the poems that make up the third section of Accidents. These poems became an exploration of the totems we hold on to throughout our lives, be they objects or experiences that bring change or understanding.

ALU: Has your idea of poetry changed since you began writing?

GG: I wouldn’t say my idea of poetry has changed, but I have become very interested in playing with forms – the architecture that holds the piece together – be it an existing form or an invented one. In this collection I’ve included six Glosas and five Sestinas, in which the content suggests containment – framed paintings, panic, temptation, secrets. I love Sestinas with their thirty-nine lines that require the intricate repetition of six words in a predefined order, six words that must have multiple meanings. Moving towards a particular pre-set word as Sestinas require, or a pre-determined phrase in the Glosas, frees me to work more associatively, more metaphorically, tapping into my subconscious, often resulting in new revelations

ALU: Can you discuss the significance of language and word choice in your collection. How did you land on which words to use?  

GG: My musical background influences my word choices to some extent, and perhaps more so in poetry. I’m attuned to language and rhythm, and can spend hours searching for exactly the perfect word, the perfect metaphor to connote both meaning and sound. I consider that each word represents a concept, that it reflects an emotional landscape, and requires an interpretation of that concept in relation to the poetic line, and to the rest of the work.

There’s a poem for small victories…
“Puck” from Accidents

Black and shiny
made in Slovakia
How many miles has it slid on ice
from stick to stick
across lines
against boards
This is the puck the boy scored his first goal with
and, not allowed to keep it, flung it
into the stands, a slapshot into his cousin’s
hands that clutched it all the way
out of the rink
and into the net
of his closet 

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A photo of author Genni Gunn.

Genni Gunn is an author, musician and translator. Born in Trieste, she came to Canada as a child. She has published twelve books: three novels—Solitaria (longlisted for the Giller Prize 2011), Tracing Iris (made into a film, The Riverbank), and Thrice Upon a Time (finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize); three short story—Permanent Tourists, Hungers and On the Road; three poetry collections—Faceless, Mating in Captivity (finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award), and Accidents; and a collection of personal essays, TRACKS: Journeys in Time and Place. As well, she has translated from Italian three collections of poems by two renowned Italian authors: Devour Me Too (finalist for the John Glassco Translation Prize) and Traveling in the Gait of a Fox (finalist for the Premio Internazionale Diego Valeri for Literary Translation) by Dacia Maraini, and Text Me by Corrado Calabrò. Two of Gunn’s books have been translated into Italian and Dutch. 

As well as books, she has written an opera libretto, Alternate Visions, produced by Chants Libres in 2007 (music by John Oliver), and projected in a simulcast at The Western Front in Vancouver; her poem, “Hot Summer Nights” has been turned into classical vocal music by John Oliver, and performed internationally. Before she turned to writing full-time, Gunn toured Canada extensively with a variety of bands (bass guitar, piano and vocals). Since then, she has performed at hundreds of readings and writers’ festivals. Gunn has a B.F.A. and an M.F.A. from the University of British Columbia. She lives in Vancouver. 

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Thanks to Genni for answering our questions, and to Signature Editions for the text of “Puck” from Accidents, which is available to order now (and get 15% off with the code THERESAPROMO4THAT until April 30!).

For more poetry month, catch up on our “there’s a poem for that” series here, and visit our poetry shop here.