Q&A with renowned poet Liz Howard

Howard reading her poetry to the Queen`s audience.
Supplied by Carolyn Smart

On March 6, poetry enthusiasts gathered in Watson Hall to hear renowned Canadian poet Liz Howard read from her debut novel, Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent, as part of the Creative Writing at Queen’s reading series. 

Howard, who’s been authoring poetry since early childhood, writes with an extraordinary style influenced by writers such as Sylvia Plath and Gertrude Stein. Howard’s poetry, which has appeared in various Canadian literary journals and which she describes as a “decolonial feminist document,” is verbally fantastic. 

Howard writes the enormous beauty and terror of the Canadian wilderness with a new and energetic voice, revealing the morbidity, darkness, deadliness and wonder of the Canadian North. Her poetry is a wild and unapologetic song that explores everything from ecological issues, to feminism, Indigenous reconciliation and more. 

Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent is an amalgamation of soft and sharp; poetry and science making love in a sad, lovely and delightfully weird collection of complex pieces. 

Howard captivated the audience with her fearless recitations and thoughtful, informative responses during the discussion afterwards. She generously signed several books and sat down to a Q&A with The Journal. 

Q: How would you describe Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent

A: I would describe it as a joyful riot of language, science, and tragedy.

Q: You’ve mentioned in other interviews that your poetry discusses feminism. Can you elaborate? Specifically, what does your poetry accomplish within a feminist context?

A: I wanted to write the fullness of my mind without apologizing for it; its difficulties, its messiness, its darkness. I grew up with parents who had very traditional gender roles, and when I left town I was able to fully be who I was. I developed an appreciation for my own mind and embodiment. I could accept the differences and messiness of the body, and I wanted to write about that from a female perspective. In “Of Hereafter Song” [a section from the debut] I talk about missing and murdered Indigenous women.” 

Q: Has your career in science influenced your writing style?

A: In going to school, I’ve had further contact with scientific terminology. I look at drawings of the brain. The whole idea of reading these unseen cognitive processes. Poetry is like that: rendering seen unseen. It’s largely conscious and unconscious working together. 

Q: Which poem from Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent is your favourite and why?

A: “Thinktent”. It serves as an organizing core to [the novel]. It’s personal. A weird juxtaposition of different types of language, Northern Ontario and the urban. It’s colliding in this electrical storm where the elements of the storm are elements in that collection. Everything that is happening in the book is happening in that poem. 

Q: What advice can you give to aspiring writers?

A: Read voraciously and broadly. Henry David Thoreau said something about going bravely in the direction of your obsessions. Follow what sets your mind on fire. 

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