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Thursday
Jul062017

“The New Rule”: An Interview with Leah Horlick

Photo credit: Maki FotosLeah Horlick is a writer and poet from Saskatoon. A 2012 Lambda Literary Fellow in Poetry, she holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. Her first collection of poetry, Riot Lung (Thistledown Press, 2012) was shortlisted for a 2013 ReLit Award and a Saskatchewan Book Award. She lives on Unceded Coast Salish Territories in Vancouver, where she co-curates REVERB, a queer and anti-oppressive reading series. Her second book, For Your Own Good, was published by Caitlin Press in spring 2015.

Her poem, "Bruises," appeared in Issue Sixty-Four of The Collagist.

Here, she speaks with interviewer Sarah Huener about influences, editing, and agency.

“Bruises” opens with an epigraph that’s referenced—and illustrated—later in the poem. Did this poem begin when you read the Sara Peters poem? If not, how did you start writing, and when did you decide to include the epigraph?

Sara Peters’ book 1994 is a favourite of mine, and I’ve returned to it ever since this poem first bowled me over. “The Last Time I Slept In This Bed” is really only one of a host of luminous poems, but because it’s the very last, and because of the way it deals with the topic of (what I read as) self-harm, it always has given me extra shivers. “Bruises” definitely began as I sifted through my feelings about the poem and reflected on some of my own experiences about my body and pain and choice.

This poem is linguistically taut and avoids being cluttered with unnecessary words. Did you use this style and form from the start, or arrive at them through revision?

I’m so glad that style is coming through for you here! I was definitely aiming for tightness and clarity all throughout the piece, as well as throughout the manuscript which eventually became  For Your Own Good. I find I often have to pare my poems way, way down from the first draft, though—it’s a bit like taking a vegetable peeler and shaving off some of the unnecessary bits.

“This was not an original practice” strikes me as something true of writing in general—that it can be a way to feel “able to choose” and exercise agency of a sort. What are your thoughts on balancing agency with rule-following in writing?

Great question. What works for me is to notice what I respond to in other writers’ work—what exciting shifts are really working, what technical strengths make a good foundation, what experiments really challenge me as a reader—and try to balance that with my own sense of my strengths as a poet. I also read out loud a lot—I find if something looks like a major rule-breaker on the page, it can still really work when performed on stage or read aloud.

What have you read recently that you’ve connected with?

Some of my favourite recent reads include The Devourers by Indra Das and Passage by Gwen Benaway. I’ve been returning again and again to even this page is white, Vivek Shraya’s debut book of poetry. I have also been obsessively reading anything I can find by Melissa Broder ever since I read So Sad Today (during the course of which I missed my stop on the train three times).

What are you working on right now?

I am very fortunate right now to be working on a long-form poem about my family’s Jewish roots in Eastern Europe - thanks to some very generous grant funding I’ll be in Romania & Moldova for two weeks at the end of July 2017 to do some research!

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