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Poetry in Transit interview with Joanne Arnott

Poetry in Transit interview with Joanne Arnott


Photo courtesy of SFU
Photo courtesy of Joanne’s blog

Poetry in Transit is a partnership with the Association of Book Publishers of British Columbia. Now in it’s 18th year, the program aims to profile talented British Columbian and Canadian poets and provide our customers with poetry to read on their commutes.

Joanne Arnott’s “Wild Seeds” currently one of 20 poems on the system. She took time out of her busy schedule to do this quick interview with us about the poem and herself!

Who is Joanne Arnott?
I am a poet, activist, mother, editor, blogger. I am a correspondent with many diverse writers, and other types of people, and I write up my notes in the form of poetry and essays. I am a synthesizer, noting patterns in the world and seeking to balance the world through word and deed.

Would you be able to tell us a bit more about your poem? What were the inspirations behind it?
“Wild Seeds” is a long poem. I had an intense experience of bonding with a new partner, and many visions and dreams about babies and pregnancy, despite a conscious awareness that pregnancy in the physical realm was not possible. Over the years, I had the experience of love-bonding leading to child-bearing, six times this occurred, and in some sense, my bodymind was deeply challenged to understand other possible outcomes.

At the same time, a couple whom I loved and had spent time with over two decades, was called upon to face illness and death together. I felt very moved to be a small part of the process, to be a part of the intimate web of vitality and witness to the transformative time of passage. I learned a great deal about “how to be” by witnessing the great grace with which both the dying person died, and the surviving partner fostered her loved one through this massive time of change. How she called upon others to support the processes of living, dying, mourning.

The Gulf Islands are referenced in this excerpt, and the poem brings these great questions of birth, death, love—both couple forms of love and the great webs of our friendships and relatedness—into focus.

How would you classify your style of poetry and writing? What inspires you?
My writing is intimate and embodied, engaged, sometimes playful, sometimes wry, sometimes mournful. Free verse that’s informed by music and the speaking voice, often engaging with ideas and a way of seeking how to articulate what is: in writing nonfiction, that intimacy is always there, ‘this is what I think,’ ‘this is what I wonder.’

What’s a ‘great’ poem for you?
A great poem is, for me, satisfying. It is musically or imagistically or in a storytelling way, a whole, and that may be as swift as haiku or as ponderous as a book-long navigation. It is a form of writing or orating that is closely akin to song, or something else more akin to type-setting. What makes it great is its capacity to do what it set out to do, to meet its own goals. If it lingers in the mind, if it settles in the body, if it calls me back: these are possible signs of greatness.

Who’s your favourite poet and/or somebody that has heavily influenced your work?
When I was young I read “Within the Barbed Wire Fence” by Takeo Ujo Nakano. This is a powerful text that presents prose and poetry in such intimately woven circumstance, revealing the importance of truth and the ways that poetry and prose can each articulate aspects of life. It is a Canadian story such as I had never encountered before. Places that I knew, and places I did not know: feelings that I knew, and experiences I did or did not have: this book connected me to my Canadian life and to Canadian literature in a way that other books had not, and showed a way to be or to write that honoured with courage the precise truths of a life.

What does Poetry of Transit mean for you?
It is a relief to find a bit of poetic information nestled amidst the contact numbers and attention-seeking advertisements, a kernel of poetic information as a way to introduce whole new realms (a book, a poet, a way of conceiving of the world) into the ongoing journey.

Poetry of Transit might mean the astrological unfoldment of the ever-new. It may be the rhythmic experience of routines that have the always fresh grace-notes of something unique, something that helps to distinguish one rush hour from the next, or one season for another sample of the same season, lived years before.

Do you take transit? If so, what’s your favourite mode?
I tend to live my life within walking distance of my home. When I venture further, I take public transit. Canada Line, SeaBus, Sky Train, bus routes that branch and web: all good.

Peer into your crystal ball, and tell us what you see for yourself in the future.
I see an impending role as poetry editor for a literary magazine: I see many trips to many poetry gatherings throughout the Lower Mainland, from Dead Poets Society at Vancouver Public Library to Surrey Muse at the Surrey Public Library, and from Cottage Bistro to the Heritage Grill. I see a visit to Nanaimo for the Cascadia Poetry Festival in the spring. I see the official opening of the North Number One Road Pump Station public art project, in Richmond, with school children, elders and artists, and city officials and staff all mingling by the side of the river: hoping for a sun-filled day.

Is there anything you’d like to add or share?
Cultural workers are often economically vulnerable, and poets not the least.

It is greatly affirming for young people to see the work of their parents showcased on public transit.

Metis and other indigenous poets and artists are the strong creative threads through all of our regions, connective tissue in a cultural sense, rooting the tumble of Canadiana to the specificity of this place.

Your time is much appreciated Joanne! You can find more of her work at and join the Poetry in Transit conversation using the hashtag #PoetryInTransit.

Author: Allen Tung


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