Catherine Graham

poetry //
The Day in January Most People Die of Their Own Hands; Vociferous

HLR: When and where did you write the work published in this issue?

I wrote “The Day in January Most People Die of Their Own Hands” during the winter of 2012, “Vociferous,” the spring of 2014. Both were written in my Toronto home, first by hand in my spiral notebook, draft after draft in ink. Then, once I had something strong enough to work with, I typed them into the computer and continued editing from there.  

HLR: Were the poems inspired by anything particular?

After reading about Blue Monday, a name given to a date in January as the most depressing day of the year, this line came into my head: you just can’t say anything to anyone. The poem, “The Day in January Most People Die of Their Own Hands” takes it from there.

“Vociferous” was inspired by a memory I had of the killdeers I encountered on my way home from school whenever I crossed the railroad tracks. Without my knowing it I must’ve been approaching their nests, hence their intense calls of distress as they led me away from their offspring by dragging a “broken” wing. While thinking about this image again their behaviour became a prescient symbol, a harbinger of my father’s fatal car accident. 

HLR: Do you consider your work to be cross-pollinated by other disciplines? 

I am very affected by art, architecture, nature and landscape. Whenever I’m triggered by something in the physical word— be it an image, sound or snippet of conversation, I’ll make note of it in my writer’s notebook, the little Moleskine I keep in my purse. Later, when I have time to write, I’ll try to coax that fragment into a poem.

Recently some of the drafts from my latest collection, Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects, were exhibited as “art” at Gallery on Wade in Toronto. The owner/curator, Apollonia Vanova, invited Kate Marshall Flaherty, Lois Lorimer and me to showcase our art during a poetry reading at her gallery. Apollonia helped me see that my drafts could be considered works of art. Like an artist’s sketchbook, here was pure process. To my surprise, I found scribbles and doodles and geometric shapes along the blue-lined margins. The pages were alive with energy. Apollonia’s encouragement gave me the confidence to show my work as art. I even sold a piece, which was very exciting. 

HLR: Where is your favourite place to write outside the home?

I have in the past written in cafés and libraries but I find I work best at home now. I’m very distracted by cellphone conversations: that annoying loud tone people take on without even knowing it.

HLR: How does travel affect your writing?

Travel brings me into the now. It opens up my senses and keeps me locked in the moment. I don’t write poems when I’m travelling but I do keep a notebook. I jot down impressions to use for later.

 HLR: How does the Internet and your presence on the Internet affect your thinking and writing?

Like many others, the Internet has become an extension of my brain. A quick Google search and I can find what I want without the need to remember. I often use it when I’m doing research for a poem. I’ll take that rabbit-hole journey of discovery. I love the synchronicity that often occurs, the affirmation of hunches and the endless connections that happen. But for me it always comes back to pen and paper. This is where my poems are created. 

HLR: What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading two authors who will be featured at the IFOA: Karl Ove Knausgård and Colm Tóibín, both captivating storytellers. As winner of the IFOA’s Poetry NOW competition, I’m looking forward to being a part of the festival and to hearing these authors read along with other featured writers. I’m also reading Don’t Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something, a powerful new poetry collection by Paul Vermeersch.

Catherine Graham is an award-winning instructor at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. Winner of the IFOA’s Poetry NOW competition, her most recent collection, Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects was nominated for the Raymond Souster Poetry Award and the CAA Poetry Award.