Kevin Spenst, a Pushcart Poetry nominee, is the author of Jabbering with Bing Bong (Anvil Press), Ignite (Anvil Press), and over a dozen chapbooks including Ward Notes (the serif of nottingham), Flip Flop Faces (JackPine Press with art by Owen Plummer), Pray Goodbye (the Alfred Gustav Press), What the Frag Meant (100 tetes press) and most recently Upend (Frog Hollow Press). His poetry deals with issues of mental health, spirituality/religion and the beautiful details of our everyday lives. He has done a one-man show at the Vancouver Fringe Festival and over a hundred poetry readings across the country. His work has won the Lush Triumphant Award for Poetry, been nominated for both the Alfred G. Bailey Prize and the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry, and has appeared in dozens of publications, including subTerrain magazine, Prairie Fire, CV2, BafterC, Lemon Hound, Poetry Is Dead, and the anthology Best Canadian Poetry 2014. He lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. where he is a cohost at Wax Poetic on Vancouver Co-op Radio and part of the organizing team at the Dead Poets Reading Series.
I fell in love with poetry in high school thanks to Joan Hall, my English Lit teacher who is still teaching at my old high school. She introduced our class to Wordsworth’s “The World is Too Much with Us.” Its first three lines seemed so contemporary and clued in to the current environmental movement: “The world is too much with us; late and soon, / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;— / Little we see in Nature that is ours." I loved how such lovely language could also speak in the voice of environmental outrage. It was one of many poems that I loved as a teen.
I started writing poetry as a teenager. I wrote out of heartbreak and longing, but I didn’t see myself as a poet. In some ways, I still don’t always see myself as a poet. Really, I'm a full-time “maker”; I craft poems, create lesson plans (for my students), help others build chapbooks, concoct jokes and unique voices for performances, and so on and so forth.
A poet’s job is to keep track of feelings, ideas and one’s immediate and wider environment through language that sings and singes into memory.
"Top" is a poem in the collection "Ignite," a book which centers both around my father's lifelong struggle with schizophrenia and how it is that I fail to recall so much of the difficult parts of my childhood. I wrote "Top" by stitching together two rare memories I have of me and my father together. Both of these moments involve being in motion: on his bicycle and on his motorbike. I wrote “Top” almost ten years ago and now when I look back, I see how the poem creates a sense of growing up while spinning off-balance. So many of us have grown up in conditions that were confusing and traumatic. Writing has helped me come to terms with my father’s tragic life and all the holes that it left. Art is where we turn this patchwork into (I hope) some semblance of song.
That is a tough question. All of them would be my first answer, but if it had to be one, I’d say Phoebe Wang’s “Application Form.” I love how it drifts through a drone of formal language into the wildly poetic. It also draws us into the heart of someone undergoing a restrictive application process, thereby bringing us into the experiences of so many new Canadians. What better type of poem to learn by heart?