Micro Interview

with Catherine Graham from Issue #3

On Choosing Subject Matter


Kathryn Mockler: How Do You Choose Subject Matter or Does It Choose You?

Catherine: Graham: I had no plans to be a writer, a poet. The concept was foreign to me. Poets were old men we studied in English class, dead men with white beards.

The deaths of my parents changed my relationship to writing. They died during my undergraduate years: mother, my first year; father, my last. Alone in the world, grief consumed me.

A worried family friend suggested I see a therapist. The therapist suggested I keep a journal. Writeout your feelings. Give grief a voice.

It helped but it wasn’t a cure.

One day I began playing with words. Images, the music of words, the silence. I was thinking about the water-filled quarry I grew up beside and the cedar-walled bungalow where I lived with my parents. That house had to be sold after they died.

Absorbed by words and memory, I entered a space both familiar and foreign. Time disappeared and my imagination expanded. When I put my pen down, I knew something significant had happened. The writing was unlike my previous journal entries. But what was it?

Eventually I worked up the courage to share the pieces with that same family friend. My throat tightened as I watched her read my words. Finished, she turned towards me and said, “These are poems. You’re writing poetry.”

From that point on, poetry has been the mainstay of my life. It took me to Northern Ireland to complete an M.A. in creative writing. I didn’t have to think about my subject matter while studying overseas. My parents and the quarry chose me.

Death removed my parents from the physical realm but the relationship I have with them continues. My parents live inside me. They give me insights, dreams, humour, conversations, tears, memories, wisdom and the silence I grapple with to follow the mystery of who they were and are as parents, as people, as spirit.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the exact age my mother was when she died from the disease, we became even closer. Mary Ellen Graham (Rusty) accompanied me through my cancer journey. After each operation I felt her presence, as if tucked inside a vessel of her love and grace.

This became the starting point for Aether: An Out-of-Body Lyric.

We see our parents the way we see starlight,

through our peripheral vision.

We can’t see them straight on –

manners, boundaries,

the illusion they’ll always be here,

prevents us from seeing who they really are.

Death has given them fully to me.

Death chose me.

Catherine Graham is an award-winning poet, novelist and creative writing instructor. Her sixth poetry collection, The Celery Forest, was named a CBC Best Book of the Year and was a finalist for the Fred Cogswell Award for Excellence in Poetry. Her debut novel Quarry won an IPPY Gold Medal, The Miramichi Reader Award for Best Fiction, and was a finalist for the Sarton Women’s Book Award and Fred Kerner Book Award. She teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto where she won an Excellence in Teaching Award. A previous winner of the Toronto International Festival of Author’s Poetry NOW, she leads their monthly Book Club and also interviews authors for the By the Lake Book Club.

Æther: An Out-of-Body Lyric, her seventh collection, launches virtually April 15, 7 pm, through knife | fork | book. Her second novel, The Most Cunning Heart, is forthcoming. @catgrahampoet

Publisher’s Description

In Æther: An Out-of-Body Lyric Catherine Graham has created a luminous homage to family, to cancer and to the strange windings of truth. Swimming through time and space, Graham introduces her mother, her father and herself and the cancers that pull them apart and bring them together. Memories mesh with visitations and multiple stories unfold of pain and loss, hidden tragedy, forgiveness and growth. With an otherworldly delicacy Graham stitches it all together to create a book-length lyric essay of lingering and profound beauty, a paean to the complexity of love and survival.

Launch info: April 15, 7 pm. Virtual Book Launch through link at knife | fork | book, in conjunction with Wolsak & Wynn, knife | fork | book, and Toronto Lit Up. 

Early praise for Aether: An Out-of-Body Lyric:

“This might be shelved in poetry, but it's essay and mystery and grief and healing and love too. Graham has a spiraling way of writing that is mesmerizing. With each revisit of a fact or feeling, more is revealed. Everything about this book is perfect - word choice, pacing, even the presentation on the page." - Jennifer Geraedts

Issue #3 of Send My Love to Anyone

Micro Interview with Catherine Graham

Feeling Like Schrodinger's Cat: On Writers' Self Love and Hate by Gary Barwin

I Won’t Clean the Tub by Kathryn Mockler

March Recommendations


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