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Healing through Poetry: Lynda Monahan speaks with Radio Book Club’s Ann Foster about Verge

VergeIn a recent interview with Ann Foster on CFCR’s Radio Book Club, Lynda Monahan speaks about her newest poetry collection, Verge. She elaborates on the central theme of the collection, on her writing process, and on teaching creative writing classes both as a writer in residence at a hospital and at a corrective facility for women.

Monahan begins by explaining the title of her collection: Verge.

“The title comes from the fact that there is a fox in the book that shows up in a series of verge poems. And the fox acts like a guide for the narrator, a guide or a companion, through a journey which takes the narrator beyond her pain, until there’s a sense of coming to terms with the past and a moving on to the future… at the end, the fox and the narrator and the woman and the poet all reach a place of peace.”

She speaks about how she initially came up with the idea of making the fox a central figure in the collection:

“A while ago, I was quite interested in writing a Japanese form of poetry called tanka, which got me interested in Japanese mythology, and in Japanese folklore there is a fox called a kitsune, a shapeshifter…that is what got me interested in the fox helping to tell the story.”

She explains that “every time the fox shows up in the book there’s a lesson that’s learned.”

Furthermore, Monahan comments on the unique nature of poetry, which depends on great precision: “every word has to count for something, every word has to have weight.”

“Raymond Carver said that you could tell everything there is to know about a woman by looking at her earrings… I think he really nailed it there. You can tell everything with the tiniest little details.”

She goes on to explain her writing process:

“Usually my home life is so busy. I do a lot of teaching creative writing and I’m involved with a lot of different creative writing programs and projects so when I want to write usually, I have a cabin up north, I’ll go up there and I’ll squirrel myself away. Or the poetry group I belong to, we often go to a writing retreat… we’ll go for a few weekends a year…It seems like I always have to get away to get any writing done.”

Monahan also explains that to her, poetry is a form of nonfiction writing as well. Through her writing, she learns to cope with feelings and events:

“I can figure it out, or I can see what I need to do or I can comprehend it a little better by writing it down.”

These therapeutic aspects of writing, which Monahan discovers in her own work, play a large role in her writing workshops, which she has led both at Victoria Hospital as a writer-in-residence, and at correctional facilities for women.

“My hope when I work with people…[is that] I can help [them] to tell their stories. It doesn’t need to be high literary work…it’s just a chance to say ‘this is me, these are my thoughts and feelings’.”

She stresses the healing aspects of both writing and sharing written work.

“When you share the work too…people feel less alone. If we hear how somebody else has gone through that time…we feel that sense of community… Maybe someone who reads my poems about my sister, for example, may not have a sister who suffered a stroke in young age, but everyone has losses in life.”

Monahan describes a specific project which she carried out with the women at the correctional facilities, which depended on writing out secrets: those they couldn’t reveal, those they might be willing to reveal a little bit, and those they wouldn’t mind sharing.

“[The women] worked with a textile artist and it was a large all hanging that the women made; and the secrets that couldn’t be shared were rolled really tightly and sown into the fabric…those they’d be willing to share a little, there’d be little pieces of it, and then the writing they were willing to share would be sown right on the fabric.”

Moreover, she stresses the many ways in which her students inspired her own writing:

“I learned so much from them, from their style of writing and the way they learned to critique. I made friends with a lot of them over the years.”

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Lynda Monahan’s Verge was published by Guernica Editions in Spring 2015.

 

 

 

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