Poet brings ‘terribly pleasurable’ work to page

Heather Kirk // Special to Western NewsFrench Studies PhD candidate Annick MacAskill will see her debut collection, No Meeting Without Body, published by Gaspereau Press this spring.

In her small bachelor apartment in Halifax’s South End, in cafes and the public library nearby, Annick MacAskill has carved out small corners in which to write. She will sit, start writing a poem first in scratchy, illegible longhand in a Moleskine Volant journal, writing it out multiple times until she has a draft she is happy with.

After six or seven rewrites, which can occupy an hour, she will transfer the poem to a document on her “waning 5-year-old laptop.” She dates every fragment in the notebook, but has never gone back to look at the time stamps of her poems.

After decades of writing, MacAskill, a PhD candidate in the Department of French Studies, will see her debut collection, No Meeting Without Body, published by Gaspereau Press this spring.

“There’s no particular theme or form in the book; it’s really just a collection of what I felt were my strongest poems over the past few years, with general themes of mythology and history, violence against women, resistance to violence, devotion and conviction – personal, political and spiritual,” said MacAskill, who currently teaches in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and is a tutor in the Writing Centre at St. Mary’s University.

“It is definitely a challenge to balance teaching and working and writing. But I find that, in a weird way, the activities feed each other.”

The creative process is project-dependent for MacAskill. Some works come together quickly and obviously. Some, reflecting on life, history, the places and faces she has seen, are spread over spaces in the day-to-day and come together in their own time. She is inspired by nature and song, by other writers and poets, as well as a strong sense of conviction.

Her favourite contemporary read is Louise Glück, an American poet appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 2003. Her timeless go-to is Sappho and she often returns to the poetic books of the Bible, such as the Psalms and Song of Songs, for inspiration. MacAskill frequently revisits the works of Souvankham Thammavongsa, a Canadian poet and short-story writer, and these days, is spending time with Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein and Canadian poet Arleen Paré. All of this is a pursuit of joy for MacAskill.

“I hope to keep writing, just take it one project at a time. Poetry is not a money-maker, but it’s terribly pleasurable. The one thing this has given me is that it has connected me to other writers and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know other writers, and working with (them) and to me, that’s invaluable,” she said.

Beyond the pleasure of poetry lies a potential to affect change and offer new perspectives to those who immerse themselves in it. Hopefully, MacAskill said.

“This might be a lost cause. But I would like to make (U.S. President) Donald Trump read the Selected Poems by Colette Bryce that came out last year. She is a contemporary Irish poet who grew up in Ireland during the Civil War and is a lesbian,” she noted.

“Maybe just confronting that perspective – besides being a beautiful writer and having quite an accessible, but a very musical and poetic style to her work – she has a few things to say that I doubt he would find interesting but maybe he would be challenged by.”

MacAskill is nearing the end of her dissertation at Western, writing on the 16th-Century poet and translator Anne de Marquets, who was also a Dominican nun.

Her poems have appeared in The Fiddlehead, Lemon Hound, Arc, CV2, Prism, Room and other journals. MacAskill has been longlisted for the CBC’s Canada Writes Poetry Prize, longlisted for the Ralph Gustafson Prize, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is the author of a chapbook, Brotherly Love: Poems of Sappho and Charaxos, as well as the forthcoming full-length début from Gaspereau Press.

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No Meeting Without Body by French Studies PhD candidate Annick MacAskill will be published in April. It will be available in bookstores and online from the publisher. MacAskill plans to be back in Ontario this summer to promote the book.

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Avenue Gambetta

In the morning there are no bird calls

and la météo predicts a week of storms

will lift centuries of dust from the Jardin

du Luxembourg. Legions of tourists start

their sleepwalk through Paris, eyes thick

and lit before the acres of shining debris

that dwarf statues of great queens

and Napoleon’s aureate tomb. Scattered

under the Eiffel Tower, people join hands

and take the same stilted pictures. A man

leans one knee into garbage-strewn grass

and uses a cheap rose to say the things

he’d rather not chance aloud; another

finds his way back to the Porte des Lilas

where his friends have written

an entire catechism on catcalls.