Different Challenges and Highlights of Alice Major’s Writing
by Junyan Feng
Alice Major is a Canadian poet who emigrated from Scotland to Canada when she was eight. Some of her collections of poetry have been published, such as Memory’s Daughter and Welcome to the Anthropocene. She was president of the Writers’ Guild of Alberta and also founded the Edmonton Poetry Festival. She was also named one of Alberta’s Influential Artists in 2016 and won the Pat Lowther Award, the National Magazine Award Gold Medal, and more.
Although I rarely write poetry, even Chinese poetry, I have always admired those excellent poets and loved their elegant poetry because I believe it is amazing that they can create such beautiful and concise sentences to express their emotion. I think there must be some factors that inspire their creation, including their culture and interests in writing, so, I wanted to explore more about Alice’s experiences. I was very curious about her process of creation, and the difficulties she faced during her writing.
From this interview, I learned that Alice’s creation was primarily influenced by Robert Burns and that reading books is important because you may get inspiration from other writers. Moreover, I thought there would be many difficulties in writing poetry before this interview, but Alice says she regards editing work as challenges to overcome. She can edit a line of her poetry for hours, which surprised me. I think that is why she can create those great collections of poetry. I should be more patient and find some joy whenever I write or revise my papers. When I am faced with difficulties in my future writing, I should also see them as challenges and spend time solving them. In addition, Alice described her different feelings between writing poetry and fiction. I believe we need to use different ways of thinking when we write different genres. Her answers were very impressive to me and made me realize how she creates themes in her poetry and fiction, and how she deals with challenges.
- How did your cultural background influence your writing?
We’re all affected by our cultural backgrounds and often we don’t even realize how it has shaped us. There are a few specific things that I am conscious of. One of the most important is Robert Burns, Scotland’s most famous poet, who believed in the fundamental equality of all human beings whether peasant or aristocrat. He wrote poems about ordinary people, that were often funny and told stories. My father wrote poems inspired by Burns, and basically, I grew up feeling that’s what poetry could be like.
- Did you face any difficulties in writing? How did you solve them?
Well, fortunately, I really like writing, so it’s not difficult to get myself to sit down and do it. I also like editing my work — I can spend hours on deciding whether all the words in a line of poetry have the right kind of sound and rhythm, and whether they say what I want. So, I’d call those challenges, not difficulties. For me one of the biggest difficulties is that you can get too close to your work and then you can’t see where it’s not working well. I have two techniques for dealing with that. One is simply to put it away for a while — a couple of months — and then look at it again with fresh eyes. The other technique is to take it to my writing group — often when I listen to people discussing my work, I realize, ‘Oh, that isn’t working. They’re not getting what I’m trying to do.’
- Is writing poetry more difficult than writing fiction? Why or why not?
I don’t think one is more difficult than the other. They’re just different challenges. For me, they seem to come from different places in my brain. If I am composing a story, I have to imagine it as if I was watching it in a movie — it’s very visual. The words seem to come after I’ve looked at the scene and decided what it’s about. A poem is different — I can have an idea of what I want to write about, but until I have some combination of words that go well together, nothing happens. Poetry is so much more about sound, so instead of ‘looking’ I have to ‘listen’ for it.
(The picture and information about Alice Major’s awards are taken from: alicemajor.com/poetry-writing)