The Painterly Art of Imagery and Words

Today my blog features an interview with the very lovely Catherine Graham, an extraordinarily talented poet and teacher, and the author of the highly-acclaimed Her Red Hair Rises With the Wings of Insects.

I'm fascinated by Catherine's marvellous imagery and in this interview, she gives us some insights as to what makes writing truly beautiful.


1. What are you working on?

I’m working on new poems and revising drafts as I make the transition into my next book of poetry.

2. You capture epic imagery in a handful of words. Any advice on how fiction writers can achieve vivid and breathtaking imagery in the span of a few words?

Thank you for the compliment. My mind is very image based so I think that helps. I may even be a frustrated painter at heart. I love visiting art galleries and being immersed in the image, one after another. I try not just to look at something but really see it. Nature also has a big impact on my imagination. I like examining the details in things.

I teach poetry at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and one of the things I ask my students to do is to keep a notebook. It’s a place for them to record words and phrases that arise from their sensual interaction with the world around them. Not just visual imagery but auditory, tactile, taste and olfactory.

So that would be my advice to fiction writers: look at art, keep a notebook. Reading poetry also helps. Poets like P. K. Page and Elizabeth Bishop, both of whom were painters, have strong imagery in their work. They paint pictures through words.

3. What are some recently read titles?

I just finished the novel Stoner by John Williams. I read a review of it recently and was pretty certain from that review it would be the kind of book I love. Beautifully written and deeply moving, it’s an elegant novel that embraces the quiet.

4. Why do you write what you do?

Poetry is the creative anchor of my life. Even when I’m not writing poems I’m thinking about how poems work, where they come from, their sound and shape, their history.

5. How does your writing process work?

Usually my process is triggered by something—an image, a snippet of conversation, a charged memory. Reading poetry often inspires me to write poems. This morning my misreading of a line released a run of words. I thought “a book with a broken spine” was “a brook with a broken spine.”

Once I’m in this creative space I try to maintain a sense of play and discovery to see where the words take me. I write first by hand, many drafts. Then once I have something strong enough I type it into the computer and continue revising from there. Reading aloud helps me locate awkward parts that don’t quite flow and leaving the draft alone for a while helps me see it with new eyes so I can judge it more objectively.



Catherine Graham is the author of five poetry collections, most recently, Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects, a finalist for the Raymond Souster Poetry Award and the CAA Poetry Award.

Winner of the IFOA Battle of the Bards, her work is anthologized in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol IV & V, The White Page /An Bhileog Bhan: Twentieth Century Irish Women Poets and has appeared or is forthcoming in Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Poetry Ireland Review, Crannóg Magazine, The Ulster Tatler, The Fiddlehead and The Malahat Review.

She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University (UK) and is an instructor of creative writing at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies where she recently won an Excellence in Teaching Award.

Visit: @catgrahampoet
 •  0 comments  •  flag
Share on Twitter
Published on July 18, 2014 05:36 Tags: art-galleries, conversations, fiction-writers, imagery, nature, notebooks, poems, triggers
No comments have been added yet.

A Writer's Life

Lisa de Nikolits
Back to blogging about #Writer'sLife and such! ...more
Follow Lisa de Nikolits's blog with rss.