Poetry Questionnaire: Karin Cope

Being broken down on a dock or lost in the fog or just sitting by the sea are all perfectly delicious traditional recipes for poems.

Karin Cope author phot

To celebrate National Poetry Month, Atlantic Books Today is conducting a Proust-esque questionnaire, in which the poem is the thing, with four Atlantic Canadian poets, throughout the month of April.

Next up is Karin Cope, a poet, sailor, photographer, videographer, writer, activist, blogger and Associate Professor at NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her most recent collection, What We’re Doing to Stay Afloat, was described by our reviewer Laura Burke as “a masterful examination of what is at stake in our modern efforts to survive.”

ABT: The best thing about poetry is…

the way it sometimes makes you drive fast, dance slick, lick your fingers and suck its bones.

The worst thing about poetry is…

the way it sometimes wedges against your breastbone or settles like a pebble in your shoe. I have also been acquainted with poems that cluster like potato chip bags against the back fence, or throb like a botched root canal.

The best thing about being a poet in Nova Scotia is…

how you never have to look very far before tripping over poetry – being broken down on a dock or lost in the fog or just sitting by the sea are all perfectly delicious traditional recipes for poems. And oatcakes. And music. And ales. It’s also where you’re most likely to spot new immigrants.

What distinguishes me from other poets is…

the sharpness of my collarbones.

The qualities I most desire in poems are…

humour, melancholy and sudden bursts of flavour.

Poetry’s best use is…

its uselessness, which is to say, its exchange value. I’ve written a poem about this in fact; I call it “Against Usefulness” (you can find a version of it on my visible poetry blog.)

My favourite poets include…

dozens of dreamers and walkers who may not yet know that they are poets.  But if I were to give you my most constant playlist it would include CD Wright (String Light and everything else), Gertrude Stein (A Sonatina Followed by Another), Pablo Neruda (The Book of Questions and Estravagario), Rainer Maria Rilke (The Duino Elegies), Cesar Vallejo (Los Heraldos Negros/ The Black Messengers), Frank O’Hara (The Lunch Poems), Juliana Spahr (This Connection of Everyone with Lungs), Claudia Rankine (Don’t Let Me Be Lonely), Pina Bausch (Café Muller), the prophet Isaiah, Susan Musgrave (Obituary of Light: The Sangan River Meditations), Mercedes Sosa (Missa criolla), Yotam Ottolenghi (Plenty More) and plenty more, some of whom we recognize as poets, many whom we do not.

If I stopped writing poetry I would…

die of either boredom or unspeakable sadness.

what we're doing to stay afloatThe best line I have ever written is this one:

I hope that I have not yet written my best line. Most poems come to me at first as an image, form or line that I tug or knit until a poem emerges, although sometimes an entire poem can be just one line long, for example, Red Boat Haiku: “Thin skim of sea ice–/the small red boat rocks at dock,/ tethered to summer.”

Other lines return to me, sometimes after a hiatus of some years because something – say sailing through a wash of red tide – brings those exact words back into consciousness (“suddenly blue sea red-veined and leaking”). Some of my favourite lines promise to tell a story – “the whales came again last night”excavating the story is what gives rise to the poem.

One of the best lines anyone else has ever written is this one:

“I dreamed a knife like a song you can’t whistle” (The Singing Knives) or “Do not die in the wintertime/ for there is no okra or sailboats” (The Forgotten Madmen of Menilmontant) – both are by Frank Stanford. But I also love this line, from the prophet Isaiah: “How beautiful upon the mountain are the feet of one who brings glad tidings”, and this one, a striking command to both poets and poetry by Rilke from his Sonnets to Orpheus: “be the crystal cup that shattered even as it rang.”

Written By

Chris Benjamin is the managing editor of Atlantic Books Today. He is also the author of three award-winning, critically-acclaimed books: Indian School Road: Legacies of the Shubenacadie Residential School; Eco-Innovators: Sustainability in Atlantic Canada and Drive-by Saviours; as well as several short stories in anthologies and journals.

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