Can you introduce yourself?
I grew up in Newfoundland, worked my way from place to place, and currently reside in Calgary, Canada. My day job involves data wrangling at nonprofit organisations. My performance reviews usually say I need to simplify my answers; I say, they need to send me less complicated problems! I like to sail, cross-country ski, swim, bird watch. I love poetry, read all kinds of literature, and I write whenever I can.
Tell us what you are currently reading?
I am on a long road trip to Newfoundland. 8000km round trip. I'm reading mostly novels en route: Big Girl Small Town by Michelle Gallin, Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Towers of Babylon by Michelle Kaeser, The Portable Dorothy Parker. Parker's 'Big Blonde' is reminding me of all the ways we erroneously tend to view previous generations as less sophisticated. And I've been thinking a lot about the poem 'Blackberrying' by Sylvia Plath, maybe because it is berry season, and I too am angling toward the sea.
Do you have a writing routine?
During the winter, I have a daily writing habit. In summer, things go a bit sideways. Most evenings, I spend an hour or two focused on poetry. Weekends, more time is devoted. The regular re-visiting of works-in-progress really helps me refine ideas. I like to create many versions, branching frequently. The daily writing time also gives me space to start new work. I tend to write at the kitchen table, mainly because my home office is for my day job. I try to keep a hard line between the two.
I love how technically tight your poetry is; you choose just the right word and put it in just the right place, which makes the structure interesting. In ‘My Arm Extended’ what is the reasoning behind your choice to use (or not to use) dashes to create structure in the poem?
I wanted this poem to flow, to pulse. Words falling off my fingers. This structure seemed to mimic a watering can. Once started, it keeps going. Saturating everything. No area left unwetted. Going places unintended, deep places. Thirsty areas. Following the natural topography down. I also wanted to present the sense of fragility. That things could break, topple. That these forms are precarious. Built on sand.
In 'My Arm Extended', you wrestle with parts of the body being “too flat” or “arched” and you follow this with the line “a gold mine for manipulation.” This line feels so packed with meaning. Can you expand on why you describe the body in this way?
The line “a gold mine for manipulation” reverberates in many ways. It is a nod to the way our perceived flaws are backdoors to our tender selves. Manipulation is such a loaded term. I kept wandering through it: of us, by us, for us, to us. All the permutations. The ways the body is the receiver. Additionally, I have had chronic pain and have successfully sought therapeutic manipulation. But I trust so uneasily. In this poem, I wanted to raise questions in this vein. Is this treatment for me or only to me? Who profits off this? How can the manipulator ever truly know why they do what they do, if profit is involved? I wanted that line to bloom in each reader's head. To have specific and general meaning.
Part way through the second stanza of ‘My Arm Extended’ the examination of the body seems to switch to (or is revealed as) being through the speaker’s eyes, described as “these retinal paparazzo”. Why is this?
This poem shifts perspective in the same way our minds shift, whenever a mirror is lifted before us. We see ourselves. We see ourselves as others see us. We see ourselves, seeing others, seeing us. It's maddening. Interrogating. Exhausting. Trying to reconcile these often conflicting viewpoints. I wanted the reader to move through these points of view. To ask: What is true? Does truth matter? When do we say, enough?
Let’s move on to discuss ‘My Mother Knows’, which I think is easily one of my favourites in this up-coming issue. Can you explain to our readers, how a mother can know everything through the attention to the body? Does this come from real life experience?
Thank you for that kind statement! When my siblings and I were kids, we often thought we were hiding things from our mother. Stuff we didn't want her to know, or things we didn't want to burden her with. In recent years I've come to realize how much she saw and knew, from her own experience in her own body, and her observation of ours. The deep knowledge she had of our bodies. We might hide the details, but our faces, our movements, our limbs told tales.
I sense that we go on a journey in this poem, from mother to off-spring, and perhaps, to mother, to off-spring again. I sense this particularly in the line “disintegrating fingers / trace the path from who to am.” Can you expand on this pattern?
This poem was written in the years after my mother died. I was thinking about all the ways I was her daughter. The more I pondered, the more I realised, I was actually her. Same feet. Same hips. I have a pain, and I recall, there, she too had a pain. With each passing year, this body of mine just becomes more deeply hers. Has always been hers. I am only now arriving at that knowledge, but she, so much further ahead, surely knew all this and more. Just as her mother knew.
Let us finish this interview with something a little fun, a little random. What is your go to font and why?
My eyesight is not the best, so I tend to skew toward fonts with better letter and line spacing. I like Calibri. Clean. Not tiring to my eyes. Doesn't lend any particular sentiment to the words. Plus free apps like LibreOffice have it available by default, so it's barrier-free for all!
If you have found Ren's thoughts as captivating as we have, you can find Ren on Twitter as @sputta. Also, if you have yet to listen to Ren reading an extract from 'My Mother Knows', you can find this here.