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Rob Whelan

Biography

I have a broad range of poetic interests and influences. I am never happier than when reading an international anthology of poems.

I am an immigrant, a traveller, and I am fascinated by 'geographies' in the broadest sense -- physical places as well as imaginative terrain. My work is the writing of nature and place, whether physical landscapes, or inner spaces of body and mind. 

My abiding fascination with the writing of place stems from formative experiences of a "lost world”—Scotland, where my family lived until I was three—and a "transplanted world"—Canada. This conflict-generating displacement inspires my poetry. I am particularly influenced by Scottish poets (George Mackay Brown, Kathleen Jamie, Don Paterson), Canadian ones (Elizabeth Bishop, Sue Goyette, the Villanelles - my poetry group), as well as Ellen Bass from the US, the late Meena Alexander, and Lucille Clifton.

My work has been a finalist for prizes including the Arc Poetry 'Poem of the Year' 2020 and The CBC Poetry Prize 2021.

I live in Kingston, Ontario, was born in Glasgow, and count Brazil, India and a cabin in the north woods near Bancroft as among my most inspiring of places.

 

 

Micro-interview

Did you read poetry when you were in high school? Is there a particular poem that you loved when you were a teenager?

Yes I did. I read Patti Smith's Babel and it was an event in my life. I was a punk and I'd heard her music, which I thought was poetry. "Because the Night," is a favourite song, and the thrill has never left me.  My idea of what was possible changed when I saw Smith's wild lyrics and poems and sketches in book form. And it made me realize that poetry is sonic, akin to music.

A teacher also introduced us to ee cummings -- "somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond," I recall really loving. It was quite the change from Tennyson's The Charge of the Light Brigade, which I'd tried to memorize in grade school, and loathed!

When did you first start writing poetry? And then when did you start thinking of yourself as a poet?

I started writing poetry when I was in high school. Then I thought, 'I have to make a living' and went to journalism school. I didn't write poetry for about 20 years. Slowly, secretively, started to do so again. It's only been the past few years I've thought of myself as a poet. 

What do you think a poet’s “job” is?

Perhaps to inspire and share the beauty and elegance and solace and surpise of poetry, a neglected, misunderstood form, and to make it available to all. We turn to poetry in the most difficult of circumstances, to express, to lean on and sustain us -- yet in a capitalist world where everything has to be 'useful,' we devalue it. Pascal said "Always keep something beautiful in your mind." The 'job' of poets is to reveal poetry's capacity for elevating and moving us, for touching on our humanity. And to gesture towards the dissident truth-telling power of poetry, which exists on the margins in our materialistic, technology obsessed society.

Publications

Poem title(s)
Swans
Title
Watch Your Head
Publisher
Watch Your Head
Editors
Kathryn Mockler
Date
Feb 2021
Publication type
Periodical/Magazine
Poem title(s)
Even the Smallest
Title
ARC Poetry
Publisher
Arc Poetry
Date
Summer 2020
Publication type
Periodical/Magazine
Poem title(s)
Cold Today
Title
The New Quarterly
Publisher
The New Quarterly
Editors
Barb Carter
Date
Winter 2017
Publication type
Periodical/Magazine
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