Poetry, ranch life and relationships: An interview with Nora Gould

Nora Gould is a poet and rancher from Alberta and her debut poetry collection I see my love my clearly for a distance is prairie poetry beyond pretty landscapes; brighter than golden wheat fields, and at times darker than long winter nights. She brings to life animal, vegetable and mineral and honours the beauty of the prairies without sentimentality. She is equally unsentimental about her life: family dynamics, her children, marriage, endometriosis. The landscape of the prairies and the landscape of her life as it intersects with the land is full and vivid and emotionally astute. Her writing hides little from view, words strung together with no fear, baring all.

Nora Gould kindly took time out of her busy life answer a few questions about writing her first book, how humans are like animals and why she thinks her writing isn’t heroic.

This is your first book. How does it feel to have it out in the world?

Surreal. I’m wondering how it will be received, how it will manage out there on its own; so I feel vulnerable.

How long had you been working on the collection?

Some of the earliest drafts were written in ’03 and ’04. The writing continued into 2011. I re-wrote poems and wrote new poems after the manuscript was accepted.

Tell me about your experience working with Brick Books.

Everyone has been friendly and supportive as they answered all those questions that I asked as a first-time author. Both Jan Zwicky and Alayna Munce were meticulous in their attention to detail. Kitty Lewis has patiently provided a lot of guidance and organized readings. All round, it’s been a steep learning curve for me.

Shannon White, a grad student my daughter worked for, photographed many of her pressed native prairie plants specifically for me to submit as suggestions for use in the book. I was delighted that the Brick Books design team decided to use them and I love what they did with the images.

You write about the land and animals, and your language is specific but never technical. How has your experience ranching, and as well, your education in veterinary medicine influenced your writing?

My studies definitely contributed to my vocabulary and my understanding of anatomy/disease/injury. I don’t see it as having as much influence on my writing as did the ranch, although my studies surely affected my life. If I hadn’t been working as a vet, I can’t imagine how I’d have met my husband and it was that relationship that led me to live on the ranch. I’m not from this part of the country; it’s my adopted home and much of the subject matter in my book comes from here.

Many of the longer pieces are prose poems. Could you talk about how you approached the prose line versus the poetic lines and how the forms influenced those stylistic decisions?

I don’t sit down and say, I’m going to write a prose poem; I write and see what happens. I let the poem lead and so it dictates the form.

There is such vividness to all the elements of this collection: the day-to-day work, home life, love, illness. There’s nothing plain about it, but it comes across as quite direct. Did you feel as though you were creating an epic experience of daily ranch life?

No. At first, I was writing individual poems about ordinary ranch life. During my time at the Banff Wired Writing Studio, I created a lot of new work, in particular the poems that reference wildlife rehab. It was during this extended time working with Barbara Klar that I began to recognize the beginning of a manuscript. Later I wrote the pieces that explore life with endometriosis. None of this is heroic, so I don’t consider the manuscript to be an epic.

You depict scenes of both animal illness and human illness. Do you feel that our human struggles parallel those of animals?

Pretty well all of the characters in my manuscript are mammals or birds. We’re all born or we hatch; we need food and shelter; and, we live in relationship with others.

The collection is cohesive. It reads like a novel. How important is narrative to your poetry?

This collection is primarily narrative. To me, it feels like one long poem because the poems are highly inter-related, with characters re-appearing and incidents echoing throughout the work.

There’s an openness to your work that is refreshing. It’s not sentimental. Would you consider the poems in this collection to reveal personal intimacy?

When I refer to personal intimacy, it is generally in the context of my experience with endometriosis. I made a decision to speak openly about this.

And now, what’s next for you?

I launched my book in Consort, Alberta on April 26th and since then I’ve read in Edmonton and Calgary. Kitty has more readings in the works. I’m just back from two weeks at the Sage Hill Spring Poetry Colloquium where I explored new work. I’m looking forward to promoting my book and writing, but this will have to wait until after the cows calve in June.

I see my love more clearly from a distance is available now. Find out more about it, and Nora Gould, by visiting Brick Books online.