The Centre for Canadian Studies held their third event in their fall lineup last Thursday, with award-winning Canadian poets Julie Bruck and Susan Glickman leading a discussion after reading selections from their respective poetry collections. Hosted by Professor Christl Verduyn in the Owens Art Gallery foyer, the event served dually as the writers’ second-last stop in their two-week tour of Maritime universities.
Both writers published major, critically-acclaimed works last year: Bruck’s third collection of poems, entitled Monkey Ranch, earned her the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, and Glickman’s historically-inspired novel, The Tale Teller, as well as her poetry collection The Smooth Yarrow, continue to receive positive reviews throughout Canada since their release in 2012.
Bruck was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec, and now lives in California where she continues to write and teach classes at the University of San Francisco and The Writing Salon, an independent school of creative writing for adults based in San Francisco and Berkeley. Her poetry has been featured in popular publications such as The Walrus and The New Yorker, among others. She is currently in the process of writing her fourth poetry collection.
Bruck cites the home as a frequent source of information and inspiration. “Our family relationships are our most intimate ones, and often our most fraught,” she explained. She believes this is often where people bear their true selves, giving a truer sense of being and living: “We reveal ourselves at our most human, whatever that may be.”
Although unbeknownst to her at the time, Susan Glickman went to the same high school as Bruck in Montreal, and went on to study dramatic arts and English literature in Boston, Massachusetts and at Oxford University in England. She has taught at the University of Toronto, and continues to live in the city where she works as a freelance editor for academic journals, in addition to pursuing her own creative projects.
Because of their extensive experience as educators, particularly in the fields of creative writing, both Glickman and Bruck offered advice regarding the composition process. They described their best inspirations as coming from extended contemplation and metaphoric extrapolation, rather than an instant eureka moment. “It’s usually a thought that won’t go away, like a grain of sand in your shoe,” speculated Glickman.
Due to Glickman’s success in both prose and poetry, she could attest to the varying challenges provided by each medium. “People who read novels like everything to be explained, and I’m still not used to that,” she elaborated, praising the concise and “compressed” nature of poetry. She also views poetry as a genre that is more perfectible and capable of expressing a complete idea or thought: “there’s a possibility of getting every word right, but that never happens with fiction,” she said.
Both poets also agreed that the process of writing must change the writer as much as it aims to change the reader. They explained that the role of a poet is to describe or conceptualize a common idea or feeling in ways that have not yet been used by either the writer or their audience. “If you’re not surprising yourself in the process,” Bruck commented, “then the work will be very flat.”
Despite their acclaim and success, both writers were refreshingly humble and eager to share their stories and advice with their audience during the discussion. Although not all students may go on to publish award-winning poems or prose, the pleasure of meeting excellent writers with the help of the Centre for Canadian Studies is a rewarding experience nonetheless.