Water Hunger – Annick MacAskill

As part of Red Alder Review‘s Open Mic series – Q&A and poem from Annick MacAskill.


Red Alder Review (RA): How do you normally connect to the poetry/literary community? 

Annick MacAskill (AM): I consider myself lucky to be in frequent contact with many poets in Nova Scotia (where I live). I’m thinking of folks like Andy Verboom, Nanci Lee, Sam Sternberg, Anna Quon, Jaime Forsythe, Alison Smith, Cory Lavender, Nolan Natasha… I could go on. My favourite way to connect is to meet with one or more writing friends over tea, coffee, or food. This has been the case wherever I’ve lived. I also try to go to as many readings as possible—and I love them!—and I read, tweet, review, interview, host events, volunteer with Room Magazine, etc.—but ultimately, I’m the kind of person who wants to sit with someone and have a long, uninterrupted conversation about books, metaphor, and whatever’s inspiring us these days. 

RA: What is the most memorable poetry event or Open Mic you attended in-person?

AM: I loved hearing Arleen Paré read from The Girls with Stone Faces in the spring of 2018, at poet Alice Burdick’s amazing bookstore Lexicon Books in Lunenburg (a town on Nova Scotia’s South Shore). Paré’s work means so much to me, and it was great to hear her, meet her, and to be in the company of other poets—Alice Burdick, Cory Lavender, and my good friend Sam Sternberg, who drove us up from Halifax that day—that evening. 

RA: Who are the poets who most influence you?

AM: These days, Marie Howe, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Anne Simpson, and Anne Carson have me questioning the way I write and imagining where I could go next. They are all so different, but I admire their ambition and the ways they challenge our idées reçues about poetry and what it does/should do. Then there are the touchstones, the poets whose words I return to constantly—Sappho, Ovid, Louise Glück, Dionne Brand, Karen Solie… 

RA: Whose work are you most excited about reading in the months to come?

AM: Some incredible writers have new books out this spring—Colette Bryce, Mercedes Eng, Sue Goyette, and Stephanie Roberts come to mind. I’ve already enjoyed recent releases by Sadiqa de Meijer and Canisia Lubrin, which I’m looking forward to re-reading. And the debuts! I just read John Elizabeth Stintzi’s Junebat and can’t wait for Lauren Turner’s The Only Card in a Deck of Knives. Later this year, I’m excited for new books by Eduardo C. Corral and Klara du Plessis. 

RA: How has the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic affected your writing practice?

AM: Writing and writing-adjacent activities (like reading and editing) have become more difficult for me, as they have for so many. The launch and tour for my new collection are also on hold. Both these changes can be discouraging, depending on the day, but they’re hardly the biggest problems a person could have. 

RA: What are you working on right now? 

AM: Right right now, I’m focused on two long sequences. One tackles grief through a consideration of a few different women from ancient Greco-Roman myth as they’re portrayed in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which contains some of my favourite versions of their stories. The Latin syntax also has a way of creating intriguing parallels/resonances/concise complexities that are not possible in English, and I love spending time in these waters. The other sequence concerns a series of supposed demonic possessions in an Ursuline convent in early seventeenth-century France. I also have a handful of poems that re-consider/re-write myths, and others that consider the functioning/authority of mythologies more generally. 

RA: Do you have any new work forthcoming (in journals, chapbooks, collections, anthologies, etc.)?

AM: My second book, Murmurations, just came out with Gaspereau Press (http://gaspereau.com/bookInfo.php?AID=0&AISBN=9781554472086). It’s a book of love poetry that also considers the limitations/boundaries among/around sound, song, meaning, noise, resonance, and communication. 

In terms of new new work, I’ve a poem coming out this fall about queer desire in A Jest of God, which has long been my favourite Margaret Laurence novel. I re-read it two summers ago and thought, “I have to write about this,” “this” being the character of Calla MacKie, who’s in love with the protagonist, Rachel. It took me about a year and a half to get to writing the piece, and when I did, I approached it in much the same way as I’d tackle re-writing one of Ovid’s heroines. I suppose this says something about Laurence’s authority in my conception of modern/contemporary literature. 

Water Hunger

Unfit to her prismatic plumage,
her scapegoat status,
the wet call of the magpie stands in
for the frustrations of our wandering.

When do we return to the sea?

Dexterous upon the lichens, grass, and rock,
the patchy gauze of mid-May snow,

the gopher on her hind paws
watches the tentative dance
of our walking.

I swear
everyone looks in love these days—

we angle our ambitions
like the sideways flight of the crow,
but frantic.

Water Hunger is from the poet’s new collection, Murmurations (Gaspereau Press, 2020).

Annick MacAskill’s poems have appeared in journals and anthologies across Canada and abroad, including Arc, Canadian Notes & Queries, The Fiddlehead, Plenitude, The Stinging Fly, and Best Canadian Poetry 2019. Her debut collection, No Meeting Without Body (Gaspereau Press, 2018), was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and shortlisted for the J.M. Abraham Award. Her second collection, Murmurations, was recently published by Gaspereau Press. Originally from Southwestern Ontario, she now lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the ancestral and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. Visit her website at annickmacaskill.com

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