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Award Winning Poet Julie Bruck!

Montreal-born and raised, Julie Bruck is an award-winning poet, teacher and writing mentor. She has been honored with numerous prizes, including Canada’s 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry, The A.M. Klein Award for Poetry and two Gold Canadian National Magazine Awards. She has three books of poetry published through Brick Books (The Woman Downstairs, 1993; The End of Travel, 1999; Monkey Ranch, 2012) and her work has also appeared in numerous magazines/journals, from The New Yorker to The Malahat Review. Bruck took some time, from her San Francisco home, to share the creative process that went into her latest poetry collection, her views on the state of poetry in Canada and some inspiring words for aspiring poets.

AE: What inspired you to put Monkey Ranch together?  
JB: Though Monkey Ranch is my third book, I have yet to set out with a clear idea of a collection ahead of time. I tend to let the poems lead, and figure out the rest as a final step. This time, I had a thick stack of poems written over more than a decade.  One day, I had a sudden inkling that there was something there to make them a coherent book.  I knew my task was to tease out that thing, and it took some serious teasing. 

AE: Did the work come together quickly or did you really need to work at it?
What was the most challenging aspect of the process?
JB: Individual poems got finished-- some quickly, some over a much longer period. My biggest slog was this book's overall shape. Ideally, a book of poems should be a kind of living organism, and one hopes the reader who unwraps it will feel rightness in the way it reveals itself.  This manuscript didn't have a central narrative event or unifying subject to focus the poems around, so my task was to create an engaging movement from poem to poem and for the collection as a whole, mostly through variations in theme, tone, pacing and impulse. That part took a lot of time and rethinking. 

“Ideally, a book of poems should be a kind of living organism, and one hopes the reader who unwraps it will feel rightness in the way it reveals itself.”

AE: What was the most rewarding part of the experience?
JB: Working with Alayna Munce at Brick Books was just super. I'd shown the manuscript to some trusted writer friends beforehand, and they'd helped me articulate what I was after, but Alayna really pushed hard, and that was thrilling. She made me second-guess every choice I'd made. That didn't necessarily mean I reversed every decision, but I gained a much better sense of what I was up to, and why.

AE: What did you learn during the process?
JB: Ha! That "finished" is a shifty concept. That's something I thought I already "knew," but getting this book done really swelled the notion. Monkey Ranch took two years to finish.

AE: How did you feel when the book was completed?
JB: Tired and happy. And tired.

AE: What has the response been like so far from critics and family?
JB: Overall, the book's had a very warm critical reception. With poetry these days, it can often seem miraculous to get any attention at all--especially in print-- so this has been pretty overwhelming. As for family, they have to love you no matter what, right? As Elvis Costello said, "Home is where you hang your head."

AE: What's next on your creative agenda?
JB: Getting through the current piles of other work and obligations so I can shift my attention to the next unruly paper tower.

AE: What made you want to be a writer?
JB: I was very keen on black & white photography in my 20's, when it dawned on me that writing offered even more latitude for "framing" the world--and that you could do this without  expensive equipment and poisonous liquids--anywhere, anytime, in any light.  The pencil is a beautiful thing. So portable.

“…that writing offered even more latitude for ‘framing’ the world--and that you could do this without  expensive equipment and poisonous liquids--anywhere, anytime, in any light.”

AE: What makes a good book?
JB: A good book is one a reader can participate in. One you can finish, put aside for a while and then reread, feeling it expand in new ways. It's a book that rewards second readings. It's an experience that changes you.

AE: What are your thoughts on the state of poetry in Canada today?
JB: It looks diverse and healthy from here. I often wish there was less sniping between various aesthetic and poetic "camps,"  both in Canada and here in the U.S, and more of a sense of common cause, but of course, those divisions  in the arts are nothing new. Maybe that's what The Poetry Foundation means when they refer to "a vigorous presence for poetry" in their ads. 

AE: Do you have any advice for aspiring poets?
JB: Write wildly and read widely. And if it suits your temperament, find a community of  poets who are also good readers. It doesn't matter whether it's a class or an informal writing group: readers are essential to the poem's work as an act of communication, and alert readers can help you cut to the chase. Reading the work of your peers will also make you a better reader of your own work, so everybody wins.

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