Jason Stefanik is a second-generation adoptee raised in Manitoba’s Interlake. He currently resides in Winnipeg’s North End. He is a founding member of neither/neither, a creative collective at the Edge Gallery in Winnipeg’s inner city, and also facilitated a small poetry workshop for inmates at Stony Mountain Penitentiary. His poems have appeared in tart, Misunderstandings Magazine, Grain, Nashwaak Review, Arc, and Prairie Fire. He is the recipient of the 2015 Banff Centre Bliss Carman Poetry Award and his book of poetry, Night Became Years, was shortlisted for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award. He's currently writing a sequence of poems on cryptography and often asks himself, "What would Auden do?"
By high school I was already probably too submersed in poetry — this added tremendous value to my imaginative life, but likely to the detriment of most other subjects, relationships, life skills, and interests. I grew up in a rural area, without cable television, and was lucky enough to have grandmothers that kept me reading: one grandmother in particular had me hooked on poetry — she really loved Longfellow; I really loved Tennyson - the Morte d’Arthur cycle was my Rambo movie, in a sense. I did have two outstanding high school English teachers (Glen Mitchell and Art Ammatuer!) who were kind enough to bend their respective curriculums to accomodate my poem lust. I guess from these beginnings, poetry tightened its head-lock on me. In high school I really loved Douglas LePan; I'm sure the first poem of his that really made me horny with a knuckleheaded romanticism was/is his “Coureur de bois.” But back then I was, embarassingly, already decalring myself a Symbolist poet, and would argue with anyone who tried to tell me that Keats was a finer poet than Shelley. I was really dumb.
I was young when I first started writing poems — my favourite book was Mother Goose, my favourite poem was “Jack Sprat.” So I always thought I could write little songs like that. I was also encouraged to knock out birthday and Christmas cards in rhyming verse, always going for the gag. My grandfather and an uncle or two would also inspire me when they'd write up a ditty for some occasion. I recall feeling that I was one of the “verse writers” in our family. I recall discovering a poem in my baby scrapbook: my mother wrote it, and it was a sort of vow to raise me (I am a second-generation adoptee) to the best of her ability, that she would always love and treat me as her own; and I recall the powerful feelings these stanzas of hers had on me. This phenomena, of reaching readers through poems, has fascinated me since I was a little person. My primary interest in life has entailed trying to capture sounds with tiny ticks on paper, yet I've never confidently thought of myself as a poet. Writing poems just feels like a horrifying but rewarding compulsion, sometimes a slog and sometimes surprisingly simple.
To educate, to inpire, to amend moral ineptitude, to enrage, to acknowlege important occassions, like the passing of seasons and royal Kings and Queens, to attack and defend, to dirge, to love, to satirize (and so amend?), to titillate, to feign, to negotiate the coda of words alongside and against the grain of self — maybe some of these things or maybe none of these things. I don't really know (sorry) what a poet's job is (and I can only answer in terms of myself) but believe a day is enjoyable if I've defeated enough resistance to feel on the way forward in a poem or two.
“The House on the Hill,” by Edwin Arlington Robinson. The poem retains spooky kitch staying power. Early eco-poetics.