As the publicist for THIN AIR, one of the perks of the job is the ability to spend time with each writer participating in the festival. When I finished Girlwood – the second book of poetry published by Winnipeg writer Jennifer Still – I immediately wanted to meet her and ask her about her beautiful writing. I emailed her, we started to correspond, and a few weeks later we were sitting inside The Frenchway Café on Corydon Avenue enjoying tea and each other’s company.
The first question I needed to have answered was when and how Still became a writer. It’s a question I ask every writer I meet, and not an easy one to answer.
“When I really think about when I started writing, I realize I’ve written all my life,” Still explained. “I’ve always had the impulse to document my experiences, my feelings, and my perceptions.”
But even though Still has written her entire life, she didn’t truly feel she was a writer until she took a risk and began sharing her material with other people.
“I gave my poems to someone else to read, and that’s a totally different experience,” she said. “So I feel that I became a writer in the serious sense when I started to risk.”
Poetry is a truly beautiful form of literary expression, one that affects every person in a unique way. It is always interesting to ask a writer how he or she began writing poetry, and I wanted to know what made Still choose this particular medium.
“It’s not a conscious choice – to be a poet – but I’ve always been drawn to the musicality of language,” Still explained. “As a young girl, I wasn’t raised in a religious family. We were meant to find what we believed in and poetry has a spiritual quality to me – that deep sense of meaning.”
Still loves reading short stories – and has written in prose throughout her career – but she finds that poetry is the medium to which she always returns.
“I find everything opens up for me when I go back to verse,” she explained. “I feel there is so much potential, and it’s so wild!”
Girlwood, which was published by Brick Books in 2011, is Still’s newest collection, yet she began working on it ten years ago.
“I started – in some ways – writing this book before my first books was published,” she said. “I think this is the book I was wanting to write when my first book came out, but I didn’t have the skills yet to know how to say it this way.”
Still explained that she is constantly writing, and she carries a pocket book and pen in her purse at all times.
“There are poems everywhere, and the key is finding them and getting them down on paper,” she explained. “It’s important always to be listening and taking in the world. It’s a beautiful thing to always be curious about the world, and I love that the most about writing.”
When asked what advice she would give to someone trying to become a poet, Still’s advice was simple.
“Read a lot of poetry that you love,” she said. “Everyone always says ‘read further afield.’ I think you should start reading with what you connect with and what you would like to write. Read anything that fires you up and makes you want to write.”
Last night, I watched Still perform from Girlwood on the THIN AIR 2011 Mainstage at Manitoba Theatre for Young People. She wore a beautiful gold dress, and captivated the audience with her carefully crafted words. I felt a personal attachment to the performance, because I had already read her collection and had an opportunity to discuss it with her before the presentation.
I can’t wait to read Still’s next collection – which she has already begun working on – and I hope that we have a chance to sit down for tea again soon.
Jennifer Still is the author of two books of poetry, Saltations (Thistledown, 2005), and Girlwood (Brick, 2011). After an interlude in Saskatoon, she has returned to Winnipeg, where she grew up on Girdwood Crescent.
– Amanda Hope (THIN AIR publicist!).