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Try Poetry: Emily & Elspeth + Catherine McNeil
Catherine McNeil provides insight as to why she chooses to not capitalize in her poems—how she places the words on the page by giving breath and space to the lines. Read this this musical approach below in McNeil’s poem ‘before leaving the west coast’ from the collection Emily & Elspeth (Caitlin Press).
An Interview with Poet Catherine McNeilALU: When was the moment that you decided you wanted to write poetry? Describe it for our readers. Was it reading another poem? Was it listening to a poet read? Was it something different entirely?Catherine McNeil: I grew up going to my Aunt Florence McNeil’s readings and receiving one of her poetry books every few years. I decided I wanted to be just like her and I took her poetry class at the University of British Columbia in grade 6, at which time I plagiarized another author’s writing because I did not think mine was good enough.ALU: If you had to pitch your featured poem to someone who had never read poetry before, how would you do so? What kinds of things do you think the new-to-poetry reader might find fascinating about it? What could you share about the poem’s writing process?Catherine McNeil: The form of poetry varies. I don’t use capitals other than for proper names. I pay attention to how I place the words on the page, like musical scores – giving breath and space to lines.I use onamatopeia as in “oo la la” & “fa la la la la la.” I record what I write and listen to the musicality of the lines.The use of alliteration like summerspill, someone, swallows the sky.Also in poetry, one can take non-sensical leaps of the imaginations and explore philosophical ideas.ALU: What’s a poetry collection or individual poem that you’d recommend to anyone looking to get into poetry?Catherine McNeil: I would recommend Florence McNeil’s Swimming Out of History.
‘before leaving the west coast’From Catherine McNeil’s collection Emily & Elspeth.slipping away from herself emily watches her body get upsalutes the sun someone spies on her has rented the suite across the street emily picks up the coffee pot pours summerspill through the windowsomeone has turned on the sun frigate birds hitchhikeon BC ferriesthe mountain in prayer swallows the skyrose petals dust the heath pigeons like wings speed to the finish writers are caught in her mind this is my home Emilythinks takes little bird notes her hurried hand cats wave “oo la la” as she passes by she sings to bones “fa la la la la la la la” eats what falls out of the sky when closing her eyestears fall ever since her car accident she cuts the tears in half puts them in a jar there is always a staying before a leaving
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