Sunday, September 30, 2012

Interview with Catherine Greenwood, Finalist for the CBC 2011-2012 Poetry Prize

Victoria, BC resident Catherine Greenwood was shortlisted for the CBC 2011-2012 CBC Poetry Prize this past month. The winner was announced on September 25, 2012, and prize winner Sadiga de Meijer’s winning poem can be read on the CBC website.

But for now, I would like to chat with my friend, Catherine. She holds a BA in English and Writing from the University of Victoria, and an MA in English from the University of New Brunswick.

Welcome, Catherine, and many congrats on being shortlisted for the CBC 2011-2012 Poetry Prize, with your poem “Texada Queen.” What an honour this must be! I know you have submitted to this contest before - what does this literary ‘nod’ mean to you?

Thanks very much, Lisa. The CBC Literary Prize has been around for a long time, in slightly different forms. I remember years ago listening to some winning poems being read on the radio and thinking how great it would be win, not just for the prize money, which is very generous, but for the prestige factor. My poem making it to the finals this year was a big surprise, the kind of good news you secretly hope for, yet find hard to believe when it comes.

You have worked on a fiction novel and short stories in the past – any intention of returning to that genre?

Yes. The novel and the short story manuscript need more work before I can send them off to publishers, and have been set aside for quite some time. I hope I can return to them with a fresh perspective now, still able see what I originally had in mind with these projects, and finish them properly!

What do you like about writing poetry over fiction?

Poems in process often suggest a particular shape or form, even if they are free verse, and I’ve developed a sense of where they need more work, pushing and pulling the lines around, adding and subtracting words and ideas. With fiction, I’m not as practiced, and the self-editing process can involve eradicating large swaths of text – I struggle with that, and question my instincts more with fiction.

Is your poem autobiographical? If so, was it difficult to write? Was it cathartic to write? If not autobiographical, what was the basis for the poem? The inspiration? Why did you write it?

Much more autobiographical than usual for me. Perhaps I subconsciously chose a difficult form – the rhyming triplets – so that I wouldn’t have to engage directly with the uncomfortable memories of that event, which is something I’ve always regretted. My attention was focused on the problem of the poem’s structure. When, near the end of writing the piece, I put down the words “I can’t help my father recover”, the truth of that statement hit home. I don’t tend to think of creative writing as a cathartic or therapeutic process, but in this case, it did bring me up against some emotions I hadn’t considered, and it allowed me to wrap a narrative around an old regret, and in some weird way, put it to bed.

I know you have a new poetry book coming out in 2013 published by Brick Books called ‘The Lost Letters.’ Is there anything you can share about this upcoming book?

There are a few sections, tied together with themes of loss, and the material versus the spiritual realms, or at least that’s the way it looks to me at this stage. The main sequence, “Dear Peter,” is inspired by the love story of the medieval couple Eloise and Peter Abelard. After being separated early in life, they reconnected through letters, which reflect the changing nature of their relationship as they progressed in their separate monastic careers. I’ve set their story in the present, in an attempt have that past echo against contemporary notions of romantic love.

Do you have a writing routine? How often to do you write?

Oh, gosh, no. Though I wish I did have a routine. I write when I can get time off work, usually. My need to earn a living seriously compromises my literary ambitions, as it does for many other writers. Perhaps that’s why poetry is what I tend to get finished and published – it’s shorter, and can sometimes be tackled on weekends if not to much else is going on.

What inspires you? What blocks your writing? If and when you get ‘stuck,’ what do you do to get the creativity flowing again?

I get inspired by other great writing, by movies, by travel, by stories people share about their lives, and by nature. And by having time to contemplate, or just be. Business blocks my writing. I’ve discovered that if I let myself do what I ‘feel’ like doing, rather than what I think I ‘should’ be doing, I get creative. Good question, one I need to ask myself periodically. A book called “Unstuck” by Jane Anne Staw really helped me when I hadn’t written for a while, and I recommend it highly.

What is next for you in the writing world? Have you entered any contests? What opportunities have arisen for you from this experience in being shortlisted in this prestigious competition?

I will focus on finishing “The Lost Letters,” and some of those poems will be appearing in literary magazines this coming year, before the book is published in Fall 2013. Being a CBC prize finalist brought my work some unprecedented attention, and I’ve been hearing different responses from readers, some who have elderly parents and can relate to that aspect of “The Texada Queen”, others who have difficult memories of family gatherings gone wrong, and other writers who have admired the piece – I am not much of a publicity seeker, but I do feel proud of that particular poem, and I’m glad that people have had a chance to read it, or hear it on the CBC podcast.

Thank you for taking the time to chat with me, Catherine. I wish you much writing success in the future, and look forward to your book, "The Lost Letter" in 2013.

Thanks for your interest, Lisa! Good questions.

For more information about Catherine, and to read her poem ‘Texada Queen,’ please visit the CBC website.


  1. I admire poets as they have to be focused and economical with their approach.
    Thanks for your interview.

    1. Thankyou, Jodie, for your insightful words. I echo your admiration. Thank you for reading! Lisa

  2. Super interview Lisa... great questions... now I'll have to start watching for your byline in literary magazines....